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John Donne

Donne's development as a poet is representative of the gradual change in taste and ideals that took place in England during his lifetime. He was born in London of a family with strong Roman Catholic traditions, studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and had the main characteristics of the Elizabethan courtier. He started his literary activity by writing a number of satires, elegies, songs and sonnets which were published posthumously as "Poems" in 1633. These poems represented a reaction both in form and subject against the poetry of his contemporaries. In them, Donne broke away from the conventional themes of pastoral poetry and sang of love in a cynical and sensuous mood. He also appeared to dislike regular, harmonious cadences as well as classical smoothness and formal perfection. Instead of the usual similes or comparisons, he introduced fantastic metaphors and extravagant exaggerations called "conceits". In spite of these eccentricities, Donne's most successful poems are remarkable for their surprising blend of passion and thought , for psychological insight, and for subtlety of analysis. In his later life, he wrote poetry on the themes of repentance, death and judgement, distinguished by erudition and ingenuity. His religious poems often reach shocking heights of intensity and his sermons are among the best written in the 17th Century, and wonderfully reflect the spirit of the age. Donne himself and a number of poets of the 17th Century, who wrote according to the new standards set by him, are generally known as "metaphysical" poets, a term adopted by Samuel Johnson.

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