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E211 John Donne Questions
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ENGLISH 211 JOHN DONNE QUESTIONS

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Assigned: "The Flea" (Vol. B, 1373); "The Good-Morrow" (1373-74); "The Sun Rising" (1376); "The Canonization" (1377-78); "A Nocturnal upon Saint Lucy's Day" (1382-84); "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" (1385-86); "The Ecstasy" (1386-88); Holy Sonnets (Vol. B, 1410-15), "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward" (1415-16); from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and "Death's Duel" (1419-24).

"The Flea"

1. How does the opportunistic speaker in "The Flea" keep pace with the events he is describing?

2. How seriously are we to take the sacred overtones of "The Flea" -- the references to the Trinity, etc.? How important is "honor" to the speaker?

"The Good Morrow"

3. In "The Good Morrow," what use does the speaker make of the public realms he mentions -- court, exploration, philosophy?

4. How is time's passage handled in "The Good Morrow"? What kind of temporality seems to govern Donne's love poetry? Explain.

5. How does Donne's reference to the court in "The Good Morrow" (and perhaps in other poems) compare to Sir Thomas Wyatt's treatment of the court (Norton Vol. B, 648-61)?

"The Sun Rising"

6. What relationship is there between the public and the private spheres in "The Sun Rising"?

7. In "The Sun Rising," what is the speaker's attitude towards the sun? Also, if you are familiar with Petrarchan and Troubadour poetry, how is Donne revising traditional complaints here?

"The Canonization"

8. How does "The Canonization" illustrate the idea that metaphysical poetry is characterized as much by logical precision as by a union of thought and feeling? (You might want to look up T. S. Eliot's analysis in "The Metaphysical Poets" of the "dissociation of sensibility" that he says set in after Donne's time. This piece can easily be found online -- here's one location: .)

9. Explore one or more of the figures the speaker employs in "The Canonization" to describe love's mystery. What is striking about the way such figures are pursued?

10. What variation on the "immortalization through verse" theme does "The Canonization" set forth? How will the poem's "pretty rooms" (stanzas, Italian le stanze) become evidence in favor of the lovers' canonization?

11. As for the term "canonization" in "The Canonization," what does it mean? By what process is someone canonized? What is the balance or relationship in this poem between spirituality and erotic love?

"A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day"

12. How might "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day" be said to reject or at least to leave behind the love relations explored in poems such as "The Canonization"?

13. What does the speaker's self-definition by means of negatives in "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day" prepare him to do or to accept?

14. In "A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day," what are lovers expected to learn from the speaker's unhappy experience? Ultimately, what is the nature or quality of that experience?

"A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"

15. In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," what is the speaker's strategy to keep away mourning? How does the conceit of "stiff twin compasses" figure in this strategy?

"The Ecstasy"

16. How does the speaker in "The Ecstasy" articulate the relationship between body and soul?

17. How do the first eight stanzas of "The Ecstasy" illustrate or set up the philosophical claims made afterwards?

Holy Sonnets

18. The Holy Sonnets address God rather than an earthly female lover. But what links Donne's sacred poetry to his love poetry?

19. What connection to God do the Holy Sonnets try to establish? What seems to be necessary for salvation?

20. Compare Holy Sonnets 17 and/or 18 to Milton's "Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint" (Norton Vol. B, 1943). Which poem emphasizes the speaker's plight more insistently? What is the status of the beloved in each?

"Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward"

21. How does "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward" connect its ordinary time frame and events with eschatological (religious, referring to "end things" such as death and resurrection) time and significance?

22. In "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward," what will happen at the pivotal moment when the speaker finally "turn{s his} face" towards God? What must happen before he can do that?

Devotions: "Meditation 4"

23. What relation between human beings and the natural world does Devotions: "Meditation 4" assert?

24. In Devotions: "Meditation 4," who is the "physician," and what can this physician do?

"Devotions: Meditation 17"

25. Devotions: "Meditation 17" emphasizes the union of all human beings. But focus more particularly on the relationship that Donne tries to establish with his audience: how does he establish that relationship, and in what does it consist?

26. Is the emphasis in Devotions: "Meditation 17" more on the union of one person with all others, or on the union of one person with God? Or are both equally stressed? Explain.

Devotions: "Expostulation 19"

27. Why, according to Donne in Devotions: "Expostulation 19," does God find metaphor an appropriate way of referring to and revealing himself? What can metaphor do that plain language, or some other device, cannot?

28. How does Devotions: "Expostulation 19" justify Donne's own poetry, if it does that? Explain.

From "Death's Duel"

29. In "Death's Duel," what psychological effect does Donne seek to have upon his hearers? If you find this sermon effective, what makes it so?

30. In "Death's Duel," how does Donne establish his authority or credibility to convey the message he does?

31. What is worse, according to Donne in "Death's Duel," than even the worst torments of damnation? How does he reinforce this point?

32. If you have read Jonathan Edwards' fire-and-brimstone sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (here's a copy from Christian Classics Ethereal Library, compare and contrast Donne's selection with that piece.

Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen and Carol T. Christ. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 9th. edition. Package 1: Vols. A, B, C. Paperback. Norton: 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0393913002.


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