Unchartered Territory: a Discussion of Originality in the Works of the 17th Century Poets John Donne and John Milton

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Unchartered Territory:
A Discussion of Originality in the Works of 17th Century Poets John Donne and John Milton

In a century that produced some of the English language’s greatest authors, poets John Donne and John Milton have emerged as two of the most significant. They both possess a deep intelligence and Orthodox Christianity from which flows their poetry of 17th century England. Little else, however, marks their work as similar. Milton’s use of ancient form and method associates him with the cultural renewal of the English Renaissance; while, in contrast, Donne’s innovative metaphysical verse develops his uniqueness and modernity. Because of these differences, the two display a divergence in craftsmanship that results in their two distinct types of originality. Milton brings original thought to derivative styles, seen in his grand and Classical Paradise Lost, while Donne’s novelty defines his originality, most apparent in his concise and practical Holy Sonnets.

John Donne’s originality becomes apparent in his modern and novel approach to poetry. First, Donne displays his modernity with his directness. Donne wastes no time elaborating on the process or buffing the details. In his “Holy Sonnet 10”, Donne expresses this immediacy by declaring the message of his poem in the first line. He shouts an imperative to his enemy, in this case Death, telling him to “be not proud”. The same holds true in “Holy Sonnet 14” where Donne’s imperative appears in the first line of his plea to God to “batter [his] heart”. With colloquial diction, Donne’s speaker acts quickly and closely and demands that the subjects of his imperatives do as well.

This immediacy reveals another novel aspect of Donnean poetry, his metaphysical nature. In his works, Donne poses a philosophical argument at the beginning and uses his poetry as means to a solution at the end. In “The Good Morrow”, Donne asks the question as to what he and his love “Did, till we loved?” (2)....
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