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Explore how Donne’s poetry was influenced by developments in scientific progressions, exploration and religion.

GCSE: English Literature

Title:  Explore how Donne’s poetry was influenced by developments in scientific progressions, exploration and religion.
Description  “Explore how John Donne’s poetry was influenced by developments in scientific progressions, exploration and religion.”
Word Count:  3400


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John Donne was an egocentric, a very self-centred man. He was also exceptionally sharp and witty, an intellectual. His ability to create seemingly pointless images and weave them into his arguments (as well as making them valid) is unrivalled. One brilliant pun in “A Hymn to God my Father” where he seeks forgiveness for his sins says, “When thou hast done, thou hast not done” (a play on his own name) followed by “For, I have more” [a pun on his wife’s name (Anne More), he felt guilty about keeping his wife in a poor condition, both financially and physically. She bore twelve children and died in childbirth]. There is no doubt at all that he was clever. Donne wrote this poem when he was deem of St. Paul’s and fearing he was at the end of his life, he was exploring his relationship with God and trying to come to terms with his previous sins “Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I have won others to sin? And made my sin their door?” He obviously felt very guilty for abandoning Catholicism to become, not only a Protestant but an authority in that field. In the final stanza he says “I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun my last thread, I shall perish on the shore;” for he doubts that he will be “let into” heaven. It is extraordinary that Donne opens A Hymn to God the father with the line “Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun?” referring to the sin in which he was born. However by the end of the poem we feel he has admitted and confessed most of his sins and is now able to die in peace and “fear no more”. We are forced to explore whether Donne as a Catholic has confessed and will therefore go to heaven or as a Protestant, he is still perceived as a sinner and therefore will not go to heaven or as a rational man of science, does heaven exist?

He continues his discourse with dying in “Hymn to God my God, in my Sickness” as he prepares to die, the subject of his poetry turns to the wider world. “I joy, that in these straights, I see my west; For, though their currents yield return to none, What shall my west hurt me?” it is known that the west is where the sun sets and where death beckons. He goes on to describe “Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?” many new seas and countries were being discovered at this time. He finally draws on the image of “Christ’s Cross, and Adam’s tree stood in one place;” this religious reference draws on the image of birth, creation, death and resurrection.
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