John Donne was born to John and Elizabeth Donne of Bread Street, London, in
1572. In his early years, John Donne was a wild lover and sensual writer. After finding
Christ, his writing style changed from sexual to spiritual. Despite the fact that Donne’s
earlier poetry was focused around lustful sensations, his later works utilized biblical
illusions, proclaiming his newly found belief in God.
Early in Donne’s life, his brother was incarcerated “for giving sanctuary to a
proscribed Catholic priest” and met his death through fever while serving his time
(Smith). The untimely and unfortunate death of his brother sent Donne down a path of
religious questioning. Though raised as a Catholic, Donne began to wonder what sort of
God would permit his brother not only to be arrested, but also to die for helping a fellow
believer. The ensuing uncertainty young Donne was struggling with can be seen reflected
in his first two volumes of work, Satires and Songs and Sonnets. Though those works do
not directly condemn religion or the government, Donne strays from the path he was
raised to walk, and speaks openly of sexual desires and women.
In “Indifferent,” a poem from the collection Songs and Sonnets, Donne openly
discusses his preferences, or lack thereof, when it comes to women. Poems such as “The
Curse” and “The Prohibition” all discuss love and women from objective and interesting
standpoints. In Donne’s poem “The Damp,” a woman is said to have no need to use any
means other than her body to overcome a man :
But these I neither look for nor profess ;
Kill me as woman, let me die
As a mere man ; do you but try
Your passive valour, and you shall find then,
Naked you have odds enough of any man. (68)
John Donne’s works focused primarily on praising women up until his employment in
1604 with the “religious pamphleteer Thomas Morton, later Bishop of Durham,” despite
the fact that he was married in 1601 (Smith).
Though Donne’s work began to turn more to religious matters in the early 1600s,
he was not focused on the positive aspects religion. Donne wrote sardonically of Christ.
This style is best exemplified in his work “A Hymn to Christ, At The Author’s Last
Going into Germany.” Donne writes of Christ as “a jealous lover to be castigated if He
withdraws His love just because it is not reciprocated” (Miller, 1058-1059).
That underlying negativity changed when, through very clever methods of
persuasion by the King (Donne was told he would not be offered any special placement
in any career unless it was through the Church), Donne agreed to enter priesthood...