John Donne's Poetry
Support for studying English GCSE and A Level
John Donne - Biography
John Donne was born (London, England) on 22 January 1572 and died on 31 March 1631 (London, England). He was a scholar, poet, soldier and secretary. Donne is now mainly regarded as a poet, but in Jacobean England he was famed for powerful oratory sermons, and for his public role as Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Donne was the third child of John Donne and Elizabeth Heywood. His mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of the Catholic Tudor playwright John Heywood and Joan Rastall, niece of Sir Thomas More. He was born into a Catholic family, and he grudgingly became a cleric in the Church of England.
Donne’s poems are difficult to date, because he preferred to almost entirely circulate his poems in manuscript form – sharing them with groups of friends and patrons. Donne didn’t want to make his poems available generally by printing them. He felt that this was beneath his dignity as a gentleman.
In the 19th century, Donne’s reputation increased and by the 20th century, poets such as T S Eliot commemorated him as a proto-modernist. In present day, he is regarded as one of the leading ‘metaphysical’ poets of the English Renaissance.
Annotation prompts for John Donne's 'A Hymn to God the Father'
'A Hymn to God the Father' centres on forgiveness. A hymn is song / ode in praise or honour of God. Donne probably wrote this poem in 1623, after he had recovered from a near-fatal illness -- suspected to be typhus / "spotted fever" (tick-borne disease) which gripped London in an epidemic that year. Donne (22.01.1572 -- 31.03.1631) is one of the most famous 17th century English 'metaphysical poets' -- a term coined by Samuel Johnson. These poets creatively use conceits (extended metaphors), wit, and engage with topics such as love or religion. 'Metaphysics' is a branch of philosophy. It deals with first principles, including ontology (nature of existence) / cosmology (origin and structure of universe -- laws, space, time, causality, and freedom) / intimately connected with epistemology (origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge).
What is the main purpose of this philosophical lyric poem, 'A Hymn to God the Father'? Is the persona baiting God? This hymn was set to music by John Hilton, during Donne's lifetime. It was probably sung in some English churches during the seventeenth century.
The annotation prompts are a supportive tool, intended to encourage further analysis and interpretation.