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John Donne

Poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama considers metaphysical poet and preacher John Donne's complex faith life through his poetry, 450 years on from his birth.

Poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama considers metaphysical poet and preacher John Donne's complex faith life through his poetry, 450 years on from his birth.

Pádraig talks about Donne's belief with Julie Sanders, Professor of English Literature and Drama at Newcastle University; Mark Oakley, writer and Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge; and Michael Symmons Roberts, poet and Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The reader is Sir Simon Russell Beale and the featured poems are:

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not Proud
Holy Sonnets: Batter my Heart, Three-person'd God
Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness
A Hymn to God the Father

John Donne was born in London in 1572 into the very precarious world of English recusant Catholicism. His mother was the grand-niece of Catholic martyr Thomas More. Religion would go on play a hugely significant but complex role throughout Donne’s life.

After Oxbridge (where he never received degrees, due to his Catholicism) he studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and looked destined for a legal or diplomatic career. In his early 20s, much of his time and money was spent on women, books and travel as well as writing most of his famous love lyrics and erotic poems.

At 25, he was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England. He held his position for several years and it's likely that, around this period, Donne converted to Anglicanism.

In 1601 he secretly married Sir Egerton’s niece, the 16-year-old Anne More. Disapproval of this clandestine marriage led to Donne being fired and there followed eight years in a wilderness of relative poverty.

In 1610, Donne published his anti-Catholic polemic work winning him King James I’s approval. He was ordained and was soon appointed Royal Chaplain. His flair for dramatic language led to him becoming a great preacher.

In 1617, Donne’s wife died shortly after giving birth to their 12th child. Donne devoted his energy to more religious poetry and writings. Four years later, he became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral. He died at the age of 59.

Producer: Rosie Boulton
A Must Try Softer production for BBC Radio 4

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28 minutes

Last on

Sat 19 Mar 2022 23:30

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  • Sun 13 Mar 2022 16:30
  • Sat 19 Mar 2022 23:30