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Holy Sonnets

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The Holy Sonnets—also known as the Divine Meditations or Divine Sonnets—are a series of nineteen poems by the English poet John Donne (1572–1631). The sonnets were first published in 1633—two years after Donne's death. They are written predominantly in the style and form prescribed by Renaissance Italian poet Petrarch (or Francesco Petrarca) (1304–1374) in which the sonnet consisted of two quatrains (four-line stanzas) and a sestet (a six-line stanza). However, several rhythmic and structural patterns as well as the inclusion of couplets are elements influenced by the sonnet form developed by English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616). Donne's work, both in love poetry and religious poetry, places him as a central figure in among the Metaphysical poets. The nineteen poems that constitute the collection were never published during Donne's lifetime although they did circulate in manuscript. Many of the poems are believed to have been written in 1609 and 1610, during a period of great personal distress and strife for Donne who suffered a combination of physical, emotional, and financial hardships during this time. This was also a time of personal religious turmoil as Donne was in the process of conversion from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism, and would take holy orders in 1615 despite profound reluctance and significant self-doubt about becoming a priest. Sonnet XVII ("Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt") is thought to have been written in 1617 following the death of his wife Anne More. In Holy Sonnets, Donne addresses religious themes of mortality, divine judgment, divine love, and humble penance while reflecting deeply personal anxieties.
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