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John Donne Biography

The biography of John Donne. This page has biographical information on John Donne, one of the best poets of all time. We also provides access to the poet's poems, best poetry, quotes, short poems, and more.

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A Jacobean poet and preacher, the representative of the so-called metaphysical poets of the period.. English poet satirist lawyer and a cleric in the Church of England

John Donne (pronounced "Dun"; 1572 – March 31, 1631) was a Jacobean poet and preacher, the representative of the so-called metaphysical poets of the period, though the term itself came after his death. His works include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, and sermons.


Donne's writings of this period, notable for their realistic and sensual style, include many songs and sonnets. His poetry is noted for the vibrancy of language and immediacy of metaphor, compared with his contemporaries'. Donne composed many satirical verses. The account of Donne's life in the 1590s from an early biographer, Izaak Walton, renders him as a young rake. Scholars believe this to be misleading, since the account was given by the older Donne, after being ordained; he may have wanted to separate, more cleanly than was possible, the younger man-about-town from the older clergyman. After a study of theology, he converted to Anglicanism in the 1590.

He became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, a prominent member of the royal court, but fell in love with Egerton's niece, Anne More, and secretly married her in 1601, ruining his other hopes at the same time. (Donne and More had twelve children, of whom only seven lived to adulthood.) When More's father found out, he used his influence to get Donne and two of his friends — one who presided over the wedding, another who witnessed it — briefly imprisoned. Egerton fired Donne. Donne became MP for the constituency of Brackley in the same year. Around this time the two "Anniversaries", An Anatomy of the World (1611) and Of the Progress of the Soul, (1612) were written, revealing his faith in the medieval order of things, which had been disrupted by the growing political, scientific, and philosophic doubt of the times.

When released from prison Donne reunited with his bride and settled on land owned by More's cousin in Surrey. The couple struggled with their finances until 1609 when Donne received his wife's dowry after reconciling with his father-in-law. Donne's growing family prompted him to seek the favours of the King, and in 1610 and 1611, Donne wrote two anti-Catholic polemics, Pseudo-Martyr and Ignatius his Conclave. The 1611 satire Ignatius his Conclave was probably the first English work to mention Galileo. King James was pleased with Donne's work, but refused to offer anything except ecclesiastical preferments. Donne resisted taking holy orders. After a long period of financial uncertainty and desperation, during which he was twice a member of Parliament (1601, 1614), Donne obeyed the King's wishes and was ordained in 1615. The tone of his poetry deepened, particularly in the "Holy Sonnets", with the death of his wife in August 15, 1617.

After his ordination, Donne wrote a number of religious works, such as Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624) and various sermons. Several were published during his lifetime. Donne was regarded as an eloquent preacher, using his style to become known as one of the greatest preachers of the era. To this day 160 of his sermons survive. In 1621, Donne was made dean of St Paul's, a position he held until his death. He had a serious illness in 1623, during which he wrote his Devotions. The story of Donne's death is well known. He seemed to be preaching his own funeral sermon when he gave an address called Death's Duell, a high point of seventeenth-century English prose. He retired to his quarters and had a portrait made of himself in his funeral shroud. He died a few weeks later on March 31, 1631.



John Donne is considered a master of the conceit, an extended metaphor that combines two vastly unlike ideas into a single idea, often using imagery. Unlike the conceits found in other Elizabethan poetry, most notably Petrarchan conceits, which formed clichéd comparisons between more closely related objects (such as a rose and love), Metaphysical conceits go to a greater depth in comparing two completely unlike objects. One of the most famous of Donne's conceits is found in A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning where he compares two lovers who are separated to the two legs of a compass.

Donne's works are also remarkably witty, employing paradoxes, puns, and subtle yet remarkable analogies. His pieces are often ironic and cynical, especially regarding the motives of humans and love. Common subjects of Donne's poems are love—especially in his early life, death—especially after his wife's death, and religion.

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