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John Donne: Life of Pain
John Donne uses poetry to explore his own identity, express his feelings, and most of all; he uses it to deal with the personal experiences occurring in his life. Donne's poetry is a confrontation or struggle to find a place in this world, or rather, a role to play in a society from which he often finds himself detached or withdrawn. His intellectual knottiness, his stress on poetry as speech rather than song, and his intense and irregular rhythms all required a good deal of getting used to, and there were many who could not or would not adjust their ears and minds to the wealth that his poetry contains. I am compelled to write about John Donne not just by the works that he has accomplished, but also because of his life full of struggle and the wonderful literature that he was able to produce during his life.
John Donne was born in England, the exact date of his birth is unknown but it is believed to be in the early year of 1572. He was the third child to be born out of family that eventually grew to 7 children. However, tragically only 3 of the children lived into maturity. His father, also John Donne, was a respected and prosperous ironmonger of the Welsh descent. His mother was Elizabeth Donne (Heywood), whose father ironically was the writer of many interludes, John Heywood. John Heywood participated in the development of British Drama before Shakespeare did. Heywood’s wife was the Granddaughter of the sister of Sir Thomas More (just a little interesting fact).
Donne was born into the Catholic faith and when Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1570, his family along with all other catholic followers was subject to discrimination and persecution. His family was looked down upon and was so brutally persecuted that John Heywood eventually recanted his own faith, his two sons who were Jesuit Priest soon left their homeland of England to practice their faith elsewhere.
At the age of 4, in 1576, Donne’s father suddenly died leaving his wife to raise her young children. Within 6 months of his fathers’ death, Elizabeth Donne remarried to Dr. Symmings. This at the time was not unusual for a widow with young children to remarry quickly to hopes to prevent government intervention. Symmings was a London medical practitioner who held degrees from Oxford and the University of Bologna, and who twice served as President of the Royal College of Physicians.
At a very young age Donne was privately taught, some believe that Jesuits possibly taught him because of Donne’s vast knowledge of science and logic, but this is uncertain. In 1584, John, age twelve, and his brother Henry, age 11, enrolled at Hart Hall, Oxford. During this period, this was no unusual for children this young to attend college, their mother especially wished them to complete school by the age of sixteen due to the fact that by the age of sixteen all students had to swear their life to the Anglican Church, thereby hoping that if they could finish their schooling they would not have to dedicate their faith the Anglican Church and could continue to practice the Roman Catholic religion. After 3 years at Oxford, Donne decided that he didn’t feel as though he was adjusting, so he transferred to the more liberal college of Cambridge. There was a problem however, since he was Catholic he wasn’t allowed to receive a degree. In 1591, both John and Henry enrolled into the Thavies Inn in London; this was a Prep Law School. On May 6th, 1592, John was accepted to the Law School at Lincolns Inn. He continued his schooling at Lincolns Inn for several years, though it was never known if he ever received his Law Degree.
The year of 1593 may have been the most devastating year for the young John Donne. His brother was imprisoned at Newgate Prison for harboring a Catholic Priest. During his time in jail Henry developed a fever that was never treated, the fever turned out to be the symptoms of the plague that was spreading across the countryside, he eventually, and slowly succumbed to death. John was emotionally wrecked and felt a since of guilt because he thought as though he was a coward for not showing the same courage and honor that his brother did. This is where many of John’s struggles begin, and also end.
Next up for the admirable Donne was becoming a member of the Naval Expedition. This was quite odd for a person with such high intelligence and wit, especially after attending Cambridge and Lincoln Inn. His leader was Earl of Essex. Donne looked up to the Earl of Essex and hoped to advance his career in the Navy, but any hopes of this soon were washed away, once again another roadblock for Donne. Earl of Essex was soon thrown into jail for treason after an uprising of the Queen, in 1601 he was executed. Throughout his expeditions and journeys, Donne befriended a man by the name of Thomas Edgerton. Their friendship grew strong and Thomas saw something in Donne that many others did not and believed that Donne could do wonderful things for his country. Thomas soon recommended John to his father, and John quickly became the Secretary to Sir Thomas Edgerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. After many successful years at Sir Thomas’s secretary, Donne did something that would forever alter his life. At age 29 he married the 17-year-old Anne Moore, the niece of Sir Thomas Edgerton’s late wife. Donne was immediately dismissed from his position after Sir Thomas heard of this secret love, thus leading to his letter, “John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-Done”. Donne was briefly imprisoned. The courts upheld the marriage, and thus leading to more then a decade of financial struggle, and a life of p
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