Friday, January 27, 2012

Analysis of John Donne's "Holy Sonnets #1"

John Donne (1572-1631)

Brief Biography
John Donne was born sometime in 1572, in London, England. His family was devout Roman Catholics at a time when it was illegal to practice Catholicism in England. He was privately educated until the age of eleven when he attended Hart Hill (now Hertford College, Oxford). When he was fourteen he attended the University of Cambridge. By the age of seventeen he was done with his studies, but was unable to get a degree at either institutions, because he could not take the Oath of Supremacy*, which was required by all to graduate.   

*The Oath of Supremacy published in 1559:
John Donne memorial at St. Paul's Cathedral
I, A. B., do utterly testify and declare in my conscience that the Queen's Highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, and of all other her Highness's dominions and countries, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes, as temporal, and that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state or potentate hath or ought to have any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence or authority ecclesiastical or spiritual within this realm; and therefore I do utterly renounce and forsake all foreign jurisdictions, powers, superiorities and authorities, and do promise that from henceforth I shall bear faith and true allegiance to the Queen's Highness, her heirs and lawful successors, and to my power shall assist and defend all jurisdictions, pre-eminences, privileges and authorities granted or belonging to the Queen's Highness, her heirs or successors, or united or annexed to the imperial crown of this realm. So help me God, and by the contents of this Book.
He began to study law at Thavies Inn, in 1591. He was admitted into Lincoln's Inn, in 1592. In 1593, his brother Henry was arrested for harboring the Catholic pries, William Harrington. Harrington was then tortured on the rack, hanged until he was almost dead, and then subjected to disembowelment. Henry Donne died in prison from the bubonic plague. It was after this that John Donne began to question his faith. He spent a lot of his money on women, literature, passtimes, and travel. At the age of twenty-five he was appointed the chief secretary of the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Thomas Egerton. In 1601, he married Egerton's niece, Anne More, against her family's wishes. He went to jail for this, but when it was determined that their marriage of legal, he was released. He and Anne had twelve children together, although some were stillborn or died at a young age. He was ordained in the Church of England, in 1615. During his marriage he wrote, but did not publish his work. It was not until his wife died on August 15, 1617 that he began trying to publish his work. He mourned his wife's death deeply, and never remarried. He struggled to support his family, and relied heavily on the generosity of his friends. He died at the age of 59 (1631) from stomach cancer. 

Analysis of Holy Sonnets #1
The narrator is asking God if He is just going to let His work go to waste. He demands that God fix him quickly, because death is upon him. He is scared that God will not absolve his sins before he dies, and he will then not be able to enter into heaven. In line four, he is describing the moment where your life flashes before your eyes when you are sure that you are going to die.   

CLICK HERE for the rest of the analysis of John Donne's "Holy Sonnets #1"

John Donne image: 

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