John Donne was born in 1572 into a Roman Catholic family. For most of his life he was an outsider, a Catholic in Protestant England. Yet, after traveling abroad and studying theology, Donne converted to the English church. During that time, some of his poems display his interest in and critiques of English society, as well as his quest for true religion. In 1596-97, Donne joins a military expedition against Catholic Spain, which inspired him to write two poems about life at sea. When he returned from the expedition, John was appointed secretary of Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Donne soon married Egerton’s seventeen-year-old niece, Ann More, angering Egerton and getting himself fired and put in jail. John’s experiences with his wife lead him to write poems about the loss of their children. Through trying to reinstate himself in the company of noblemen, Donne wrote many poems for friends and patrons. John then was convinced by King James to become a clergyman, which also inspired him to write many poems about God and mortality. Even in his last few days, Donne was devoted to the works of God, preaching just two days before his death. Donne was very diverse and changing throughout the years, composing poems of a variety of attitudes, viewpoints, and feelings about love and religion. Each of the events in his life and his thoughts on those events are reflected in his literature. His poems are very different than one would expect, but they seem to portray him as a person and involve each of his emotions and deep thoughts.
In his poem “The Bait,” Donne uses many metaphors and symbolisms. The poem beings with the speaker telling his love to come with him. He then goes into a description of a river scene with fish that are attracted to this woman. The fish are metaphors for the many men that fall prey to this woman’s natural beauty and essence. With the fish following the woman without the need of bait, it seems as though Donne is saying that the woman does not need to try hard to catch the attention of men. The fifth and six stanzas describe how others would catch fish, by “freez[ing] with angling reeds,” “cut[ting] their legs with shells and weeds,” “with strangling snare or window net,” or with “sleave-silk flies bewitch poor fishes’ wandering eyes.” Each of these ways seems unattractive, deceiving, and hurtful. But the last stanza explains that the woman does not need deceit, but only herself because she is her “own bait.” This symbolizes the attraction that men have towards women and how easily women can catch a man’s attention. He ends this poem by saying that if a fish were to not be caught by the woman, than that fish is smarter than the speaker because he would surely be caught be her.
Donne has been put in the category of metaphysical poets. According to Wikipedia, the term metaphysical poet is a term used to describe British poets whose work is characterized by the use of conceptual metaphors and the thought of love and religion. He often uses satires and metaphors to bring two unlikely things together in comparison, such as in his poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” where he compares lovers who are separated to the two legs of a compass. Many of his works are witty with notable analogies, such as in the poem “The Flea,” when Donne uses the flea as an analogy of a man and woman’s ability to make love without being shameful. He is different than many poets, not turning to clichéd comparisons, like a rose and love. He’s innovative and definitely hard to duplicate because of his unique style.