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The Challenges of Religion in Seventeenth Century Poetry

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KPMG
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Ariel P.
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  1. Introduction
  2. John Donne (1572-1631)
  3. The two main themes that his literary contribution was associated with
  4. 'The Holy Sonnet 18'
  5. 'A Hymn to G-d the Father'
  6. 'The Collar'
  7. Conclusion

Poetry has often been used as a vehicle to depict the complex aspects of religious life. Religion has always played a crucial role in the cultural development since the earliest times of mankind. Literature constituted an excellent means to express the feelings shared by the religious world. During the seventeenth century, many poets sought to amplify this representation by conveying the challenges that a devout person was confronted with in the society of his time.

Through their pieces of writing, they aimed to expose the difficulties and trials that rose as a result of the contradictions and incompatibilities between secular and spiritual life. Like a window looking out onto reality, the masterpiece works of these poets highlighted these struggles in various ways, offering several solutions to reconcile these two very different realms of existence. One of the authors who developed this literary motif is John Donne (1572-1631).

A poet born and raised as a Roman Catholic in an England that did not permit the open practice of religion. The two main themes that his literary contribution was associated with in the beginning of his career indicate quite clearly his attitude at the time towards the repressive Elizabethan society that surrounded him: the advocacy of true religion and the liberty of expressing the unconventional images of erotic poetry.

By endorsing true religion, he strove to discourage those who blindly followed an established tradition in which they did not truly believe , and in the erotic poetry he gave vent to his inner passions with no restrains. In the later years of his life, he undertook a radical change by converting to Anglicanism, which resulted in the composition of several religious poems that denoted a much stricter adherence to the traditional Bible scriptures, clashing blatantly with his early skepticism.

However, in the Holy Sonnets, part of Donne's collection of poems written on the eve of his ideological transformation, there can still be found traces of the revolutionary views of the young poet both concerning true religion and the predisposition for free expression of the passions.

Tags: Poetry, Holy Sonnets, Donne's collection of poems, true religion, Bible scriptures, Roman Catholic, cultural development

[...] However, in the Holy Sonnets, part of Donne's collection of poems written on the eve of his ideological transformation, there can still be found traces of the revolutionary views of the young poet both concerning true religion and the predisposition for free expression of the passions. For instance, in Holy Sonnet 14, Donne envisions the sense of spiritual fulfillment derived by religious practice as a form of sexual pleasure. A series of shocking images for the time in which it was published, the sonnet is one long metaphor that parallels the request for G-d's presence to a call for a violent and passionate act of love, at the end of which the devoted person emerges pure and free from the materialism of the nonspiritual world. [...]


[...] Marvell illuminates this concern that he has in Coronet?, a pastoral poem that suggests that the devout poet's endeavor is to replace Christ's crown of thorns, given to him by the mocking soldiers at his crucifixion (Matthew 27:29), with a woven crown of flowers, the ?coronet? of the title. Symbolically, Marvell's religious pastoralism aims at attributing himself the role to offer to G-d a kind of poetry, represented by the crown, which is more appropriate to him than the poetry of the world, which typically makes fun of him. [...]


[...] Another famous poem in which Donne decides to pour out his feelings towards the challenges with which religion burdens him as well as the rest of the religious world is Hymn to G-d the Father?. In each of the three stanzas of the poem, the speaker confesses his sins to G-d in a daring yet sincere voice, articulating his hopes to see the forgiveness for his misdeeds. All the three stanzas of the poem end with the refrain ?When thou has done, though has not done / For I have which has been explained by many as being a pun on the names referring to Donne's own name, and alluding to his wife Anne More's maiden name. [...]

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