A Peep Into English Poetry

Harmony Cardenas

Poetry of John Dunne and Milton

The period from John Dunne to Milton spans just half a century. Both poets are considered among the foremost English poets and have an assured place in the history of English literature. John Donne lived from1572 – 1631, while Milton lived from 1608-1674. For some time the life of both poets overlapped. Both poets have made a mark in English literature. Milton became famous earlier and the value of John Donne as a poet was recognized much later. In fact a good 200 years later.

John Dunne

John Dunne was a satirist, lawyer and cleric in the Church of England. He is considered one of the foremost exponents of metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical when applied to poetry means poems with love, science, romance and sensuality integrated with man’s relationship with God. These poems are lyrical poems containing intense meditations. John Dunne was greatly influenced by the church as such his poetry had a religious bent.

Metaphysical poets

Along with Dunne the other metaphysical poets were George Herbert (1593-1633), Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) and Henry Vaughn. They had their own distinct styles which was sensual and included love poetry, religious poems and sermons. The Metaphysical poets were overtaken by the romantic poets a century later. Marvell had a connection with John Milton. He was his secretary and once when Milton was jailed during the Restoration; it was Marvell who had him set free after he had petitioned for his release.

The poets Andrew Marvell and George Herbert never published their poems during their life time and their verses were published posthumously.

John Milton

John Milton who lived during the same period was a scholarly man of letters. He was also a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England, led by Oliver Cromwell. His monumental work ‘Paradise Lost‘ puts him in the top bracket of English literature. Milton had the mortification of losing his eyesight towards the end of his life, yet he took it in his stride and there is no remorse or self pity at this handicap being thrust on him.

In contrast to John Dunne and his compatriots, Milton was not a metaphysical poet. Though he lived during the same period his style and themes were of an entirely different genre. Milton concentrated on social issues and religion. In his epic ‘Paradise Lost’ Milton’s goal was to justify the ways of God. His primary aim was to explain the ways of God to man.

Milton achieved international recognition during his lifetime. During this period he wrote ‘Areopagitica‘ a condemnation of pre-publication censorship. Milton was an erudite man and wrote in English, Latin and Italian.

Milton and Dunne’s interpretation of Mans Relationship with God.

Milton and Dunne are studies in contrast. Milton in ‘Paradise Lost’ recounts the fall of man in the Genesis. He relates graphic conversations of Adam and Eve with God. He describes the demons and their exile to Hell. Donne on the other hand in ‘Holy Sonnet XIV’ creates an entirely different scenario. He illustrates man’s utter dependence on God. John Dunne was highly religious and his poetry brings out the rationality and beauty of faith in God.

Both the poets thus wrote poetry touching two different aspects of man’s relationship with god. The fact is that both poets had god as a central theme, though they interpreted man’s relations with the almighty differently.

Milton and Politics

Milton was aware of John Donne. He travelled every day from school to home and crossed St Paul’s. In all probability he listened to the sermons put on during this time by John Donne. Milton’s poetry had a different approach from Donne and the Metaphysical poets. He was more alive to the political scenario of that period.

England was in turmoil with Cromwell and Milton sided with him. Cromwell is a towering figure in English history and at that time he was all powerful. That may have rubbed off on Milton, as he sided with Cromwell. John Donne was not that politically inclined, influenced as he was more by the church.

Last Word

Poetry of both poets Dunne and Milton is a treasure. The short period saw other poets emerge during the time of these two poets. Nothing however matches the luminosity of these two. Both poets made the English language richer and now almost 400 years later we can appreciate the greatness of these two poets.

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