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Donne: Collected Poems - Lessons and study guide
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Donne: Collected Poems - Lessons and study guide

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For preparing students for WJEC A2 English Literature

For preparing students for WJEC A2 English Literature

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  • 1. JOHN DONNE: SELECTED POEMS Notes and prompts, with extracts from the Introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, by Ilona Bell
  • 2. JOHN DONNE Donne was born in 1572 and raised in a Catholic family - when this was highly dangerous!  He studied law and was appointed secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal.  At 29, he secretly married his lover, Anne More – who was the niece of his employer – for which he was briefly imprisoned. The marriage was eventually declared valid – but Donne lost his job.  He moved to the country and had 12 children with Anne – though only 6 survived.  He became an Anglican minister, and after Anne died, he became the Dean of St Paul’s. 
  • 3. RELIGIOUS ATTITUDES– AO4 “Donne came of age during a time when religious belief was passionately debated and politically fraught. Within two generations the government had abandoned Roman Catholicism under Henry V111 (r 1509-47) and institutionalised the Protestant Reformation under Edward VI (r 154753), only to return to Catholicism with Queen Mary (r 1553-58) and back again to Protestantism with Queen Elizabeth (r 1558-1603). The law required monthly attendance at the services of the Church of England, but dissent was widespread.”
  • 4. JOHN DONNE “Donne sharpened his poetic skills in an era when harbouring a Catholic priest could cost you your life, in a world where wooing, seducing and marrying a young heiress could either secure your future or land you in prison and destroy your career, and in a patronage culture where writing is brilliant, delicately veiled poems of praise could win valuable support.”
  • 5. THE METAPHYSICALS The Metaphysical poets were writing during the first half of the 17th Century. They were famous for combining explorations of passion with clever intellectual arguments.
  • 6. TRADEMARKS The characteristic tone of persuasion  Use of the conceit – an extended metaphor that intends to surprise and delight by its wit and ingenuity – an intellectual rather than sensory experience  Colloquial speech  Considerable flexibility of rhyme and metre  A love of paradox  Double-meanings and puns 
  • 7. DONNE’S POETRY  Donne’s poems were not intended for the general public – they were addressed to an exclusive private audience – sometimes even individuals. “In early modern England, plays and printed books were subject to government censorship. Donne could speak more openly about sex, morality, religion and politics by writing for a carefully chosen private audience.”
  • 8. THE EXAM This collection is a core text for the exam. You will need to answer a question on Donne, from a choice of five. You will also need to connect Donne’s poetry to an unseen poem, from a choice of five. This unseen poem becomes the partner text. Remember that this is a closed-book exam.
  • 9. SONGS & SONNETS
  • 10. ‘THE FLEA’ Introduction to the conceit The flea works as an extended metaphor in each stanza, and its meaning adapts as Donne’s argument progresses. What does the flea mean in each stanza? Is it an effective conceit? Remember that the idea here was to be striking, unusual and witty!
  • 11. ‘THE FLEA’ The jokes of ‘The Flea’ work on different levels for different readers! What do you make of the woman that the speaker of the poem is addressing? Explore interpretations…
  • 12. ‘THE GOOD MORROW’ What are the lovers waking from, symbolically? How does Donne portray his love?
  • 13. ‘GO AND CATCH A FALLING STAR’ In the first two stanzas, what is Donne urging his reader/s to do? What is he comparing these tasks to in the third stanza? What would you say is the tone of the poem? Is it sexist or playful? Misogynistic or mischievous?
  • 14. ‘SWEETEST LOVE, I DO NOT GO’ ‘It’s not you, it’s me…’ Explore Donne’s presentation of leaving his lover in the poem. Find evidence to support your interpretation, and prepare to argue your case: Team 1: this poem is reassuring and romantic – it’s a promise to return Team 2: this poem is insincere and manipulative – it’s about a break-up
  • 15. ‘THE SUN RISING’ Explore Donne’s presentation of: A. B. The sun His relationship with his lover
  • 16. ‘A VALEDICTION FORBIDDING MOURNING’ What does he compare the ideal parting to in the first stanza? Does stanza two sound like he wants the parting to be dignified, or like the relationship is a secret? How does Donne portray his relationship with his lover as different and more profound than other relationships? Explore Donne’s use of imagery in the last four stanzas.
  • 17. ‘THE CANONISATION’ Donne “mocks the futility of the conventional Petrarchan lover, stuck in a stock conceit and frozen in a static love for an inaccessible, heavenly mistress.” ‘Canonisation’ is the process of transforming a person into a saint – i.e. the decision that a person merits the status of saint.
  • 18. ‘THE CANONISATION’ Stanza 1: Donne’s presentation of politics, wealth & nobility Stanza 2: Donne parodies Petrarchan ideas and classic romantic hyperbole Stanza 3: Donne uses metaphors to describe the intensity and uniqueness of his love Stanza 4: Donne presents himself and his lover as the ‘saints’ of love
  • 19. ‘THE CANONISATION’ - INTERPRETATIONS (from sparknotes) Discuss and debate the following: This is an “anti-political love poem”  The poem is a “coded, ironic rumination on the ‘ruined fortune’ and dashed political hopes of the 1st stanza”  The poem is a “defence of love against the corrupting values of politics and privilege” 
  • 20. ‘THE BAIT’ This poem was inspired by Marlowe’s ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’, which was parodied by other writers for its overblown pastoral imagery. In it, the shepherd promises his love an idyllic life with him, if she chooses to “live with me and be my love”. There are different interpretations of the poem – one is that this pastoral ideal is innocent and beautiful, and another is that it is calculated and manipulative – designed to seduce.
  • 21. EXTRACT FROM MARLOWE’S POEM And I will make thee beds of roses
 And a thousand fragrant poises,
 A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
 Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle; A gown made of the finest wool
 Which from our pretty lambs we pull;
 Fair lined slippers for the cold,
 With buckles of the purest gold; A belt of straw and ivy buds,
 With coral clasps and amber studs;
 And if these pleasures may thee move,
 Come live with me, and be my love.
  • 22. ‘THE BAIT’ Is the speaker male or female? How does Donne transform the pastoral imagery of the original? What view of the original do you think Donne had?.
  • 23. ‘THE ANNIVERSARY’ How is Donne’s relationship with his lover different from everything else in stanza one? What effect does Donne imagine death will have on their love? Explore Donne’s presentation of the relationship in stanza three, focusing on his comparison to royalty.
  • 24. INDEPENDENT READING Work through the following four poems on your own or with your table group:  ‘Woman’s Constancy’  ‘The Triple Fool’  ‘A Fever’  ‘Air and Angels’ Approach these as unseen poems, and make sure you collect plenty of detailed notes for revision.
  • 25. FURTHER READING: SONGS & SONNETS Read ten more poems from this section. Apply your practical criticism skills, and try to figure them out.  You may wish to divide these poems up in your groups, so that you can trade notes. 
  • 26. ELEGIES
  • 27. ELEGIES As a form, elegies are often mournful poems lamenting the loss of a loved one  A typical feature is ‘elegaic couplets’  Elegies can also used for witty, humorous and satiric ideas – and Donne’s elegies fit more neatly into this definition.  Some of Donne’s poems are classified as ‘funeral elegies’ to distinguish them from his other elegies. You may wish to work through these independently. 
  • 28. ‘TO HIS MISTRESS GOING TO BED’ “Donne is less an idealist or an aesthete than a builder, an explorer, a sceptic, a sensualist.” “He writes with remarkable frankness about sex” Explore Donne’s presentation of sex and relationships in the poem. Extend: You can also see this in ‘Elegy: Love’s Progress’, and ‘Sappho to Philaenis’, the latter of which “also gives female creative and female sexuality a voice”.
  • 29. ‘HIS PICTURE’ Explore Donne’s presentation of parting in the poem, focusing on: How Donne uses the picture of himself  How Donne compares young love to adult love  How this poem compares to ‘A Valediction Forbidding Mourning’ 
  • 30. ‘THE AUTUMNAL’ Explore Donne’s presentation of mature love in the poem.  How does this poem compare to ‘His Picture’?
  • 31. EPIGRAMS “The witty turn of the ending sends us back to the beginning to rethink what we thought we understood.”
  • 32. EPIGRAMS Read through 5 epigrams from this section. Use the notes at the back of the book to help you with the classical references if necessary. Can you write some of your own?
  • 33. SATIRES “The famously knotty satires mock stupidity, deride self-indulgence, and attack corruption. They also seek the one true Church.”
  • 34. ‘SATIRE 3’ “Donne’s third satire scorns the fictitious Graius for accepting the state church simply because some preachers, vile ambitious bawds, and laws, Still like new fashions, bid him think that she Which dwells with us is only perfect. Donne’s search for the one true Church soon turns into a search for truth itself, a pursuit so rigorous that it requires the fearless perseverance of a mountain climber: On a huge hill, Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will Reach her, about must, and must about go; And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so. For Donne, the road to knowledge, whether secular or religious, is always a ‘strange way’, circuitous but rigorous.
  • 35. SATIRE 3 Explore Donne’s presentation of faith in the poem.
  • 36. DIVINE POEMS “Donne’s divine poems are filled with images of erotic, secular love, just as his love poems are permeated with references to exalted spiritual love, because the dynamic is strikingly similar.”
  • 37. THE HOLY SONNETS These were written towards the end of Donne’s life. Form:  What is a sonnet? What sort of sonnets are these? Shakespearian, Petrarchan, Spenserian…? 
  • 38. ‘HOLY SONNET II’ Explore Donne’s presentation of God and the Devil in the poem. How would you describe the tone of the poem?
  • 39. ‘HOLY SONNET V’ How does this poem develop the contrast between good and evil that we saw in Holy Sonnet II? How is the tone of this poem different to Holy Sonnet II? Explore the imagery or drowning and burning in the poem.
  • 40. ‘HOLY SONNET X’ This is one of Donne’s most famous divine poems. Explore Donne’s presentation of death in the poem.
  • 41. ‘HOLY SONNET XIV’ In this poem, Donne calls for God to “batter” his heart rather than “knock”. How does the presentation of God compare to the other Holy Sonnets we have read so far? Explore Donne’s use of romantic and sexual language in the poem.
  • 42. ‘HOLY SONNET XIX’ Explore Donne’s presentation of his faith in the poem. How does this compare to the other Holy Sonnets we have read?
  • 43. FURTHER READING Read through the remaining Holy Sonnets – apply your poetry-deciphering skills and make detailed notes for your revision.