A Silent God In John Donne's "Holy Sonnets"

2183 words - 9 pages

Readers since the middle seventeenth century have found the sermons and poetry of John Donne to be rather controversial. Being an Anglican priest, readers may expect his work to evince the progress toward one's sense of a caring God, faith, and spiritual health. However, these expectations fall short very quickly. The works of John Donne rarely, if at all, seem to give some impetus towards spiritual progression and a closeness with God. Most of his poetryand sermons oddly enough deal with the idea of death and complete separation from God (known as the via negativa). It is hard to discern what kind of message Donne is sending as a man of faith, but if one looks hard enough, the real messages he is trying to send are on much deeper levels than previously thought.John Donne was born into a Roman Catholic family in 1572, a time when the persecution of the Catholics in England was on the rise. English laws prohibited anyone from publicly practicing any other religion other than the state religion. John Carey described the consequences of not adhering to Anglicanism: "You could not, if you remained faithful to your religion, hope to play any part in public life, and you were debarred from taking a university degree by the requirement that graduates should subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles" (qtd. in Bloom 10).Donne, as a young child, was forced to watch public executions due to his Catholic connections. His grandfather, John Heywood, fled rather than accepting Anglican Doctrine. Donne even had to endure the sight of his neighbors being arrested and executed. Fearful of his life, Donne left his Catholic heritage behind in the 1950s.He attended at both Cambridge and Oxford and studied religion, medicine, and law, but never took a degree in any major. He did, however, like writing about the massive amount of information he had learned, which eventually landed him in a job in 1598 as a secretary to Thomas Egerton, one of the highest officials to Queen Elizabeth's court. However, his political prowess came to a close when he secretly married Anne More in 1601, the niece of Egerton's wife. Despite having a happy marriage, Donne was stripped of his job and sent to prison. Despair and contemplations of suicide clouded his mind. It was then that he wrote Biathanos, a work that dealt with different forms of death.After he was released from prison, King James speculated that he was to become a great Anglican preacher despite his refusal to take Anglican orders in 1607. The king asserted that Donne's success would only become a reality if he joined the Anglican Church. He eventually overcame his qualms about ordination by writing an anti-Catholic polemic and a satire on the Jesuit order and entered the Anglican ministry in 1615.Harold Bloom considered this act to be "evidence for his ambition, rather than his spirituality" (11). Donne saw his worldly success and desire to work almost as his religious duties. He loved to write and preach because it gave him the...

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