John Donne: Poems

John Donne: Poems Glossary


The poetic strategy of addressing an inanimate object. This differs from personification in that the object does not necessarily have human qualities.


a ghost


a stop in a line of poetry, either with punctuation or as recited


In the Catholic Church, recognition of superior virtue, a step below sainthood. In literary studies, the canon is the body of texts recognized to be enduring due to their high quality.


A V-shaped tool for drawing arcs and circles. The center leg remains stable, grounded with a sharp point, while the moving leg, attached to a writing implement, draws the arc.


A poetic metaphor in which two seemingly unlike things are compared at some length. A successful conceit shows the poet's abilities and allows the poet to stretch the boundaries of reality and persuasion. The use of the conceit perhaps reached its zenith with John Donne.


a person who maps out the cosmos--the heavens and the earth--mainly using astronomy and geography


adjective for poetic lines in which one line of poetry flows into the next without stopping


consisting of different kinds


great exaggeration, which in Donne often suggests a metaphysical rather than literal reading of the subject of the poem


A pattern of prayers, or the order of a Christian worship service, followed in the same way each time. More generally, it is anything frequently repeated. Since the Catholic prayers included addressing so many subjects, the term also is used for tedious lists.


usually short poetry reflecting a personal experience


A literary device in which one thing is said to be another, which helps reveal the qualities of the main object. For example, if a man is a lion, he may be strong and loud, but if he is a mouse, he is timid.


beyond the natural world, usually meaning something spiritual or mystical

metaphysical conceit

metaphor that tends to reveal a more purely conceptual, and thus rather tenuous, relationship between the things being compared

Metaphysical poets

The group of poets to which Donne belonged, including George Herbert, Andrew Marvell, George Chapman, and others. These poets were concerned generally with the universe including the spiritual realm, and they used learned and sometimes far-fetched metaphors to describe their observations. For example, Donne compares his soul to a moving planet in "Good Friday."


The number of beats (stressed syllables) in a line of poetry. Very common in Donne is pentameter, a pattern of five "feet" or beats alternating with unstressed syllables, with the result that a line has 10 syllables.


A statement or idea that seems self-contradictory or absurd but actually expresses a deeper reality (such as the idea that one must "lose his life" in order to "save" it, which means giving up a life of sin in order to gain a better life, or to give up control over one's life to God so that God will bring salvation to the person). Paradox has a special place in poetry because it places contradictory or opposite ideas together in short scope.


Giving human qualities to an inanimate object. Donne personifies the sun in "The Sunne Rising" as a "busy old fool" with human emotions.


A mythical bird that would die each year in a burst of flames only to rise again, reborn, from its own ashes. It often symbolizes rebirth or the eternal cycle of the universe.


combative piece of writing against a target of ire


a narrow passage of water, or a "narrow" position of difficulty or distress with limited options


term used to denote the long ("stressed") or short ("unstressed") syllables in a line of poetry


temporal or earthly; literally, "under the moon"


sixty (one score equals twenty)


the meter, rhyme, and other structural characteristics of a poem and its verses or stanzas


head of a province or city who acts as the representative of a wider sovereign


Poetic wit, among the metaphysical poets, was a brilliant verbal cleverness that turned poetic conventions upside down, drew strange but carefully drawn comparisons, and layered elaborate puns into lyric poetry.