Sample English Literature Research Paper on Parallel between John Donne’s Prose and Poetry

            John Donne was the founder of Metaphysical poets.  Though he was known as a poet, it was preaching and great sermons that made him reach his highest fame. To draw parallels between two things is to compare two things and to show how they are similar or different. This work seeks to draw parallel between John Donne’s prose and poetry. 

John Donne has employed imagery in both his prose and poetry work.  In his Devotions, which he wrote during a serious illness, Donne compared his sickness, which manifested itself by means of spots on his body, with the stars in the firmament. 

The comparison between sensual expression found in one of his love poems, and an expression of deep religious feeling in the Sermons depicts another kind of imagery. “The Extasie,”and one from the “Sermons”, imply that Donne’s thought cannot be separated from his feeling, that there is interplay of wit and emotion, and that the stronger the feeling, the more striking is the image. In “The Extasie,” when he says that: “Loves mysteries in souls doe grow, But the body is his books, “he expresses a purely sensual idea. He says that through the body we learn the extent of true love. The image that he uses to describe this feeling is witty and striking, which implies intellectualized emotion.

There  is a striking similarity between the poem “Death  not be proud” and  the Sermon “Death Duels” in terms of them and style.  “Death be not be proud’ is a holy sonnet in which Donne addresses death directly. He tells death not to be proud inasmuch as some have called it powerful and the death itself believes it has triumphed over human being. Donne does not believe as death takes advantage of diseases, murder, and accidents to put people to  sleep. Instead, he says that there is life after death. Death, according to this poem is temporal because after death, people live with other spirits in heaven. Here he equates death to stage in life, that is, it marks the end of the earthly life and the beginning of the eternal life. Waking eternally implies that there will be no dying after resurrection. Death duels, which is the last sermon preached by Donne, portrays death as a low decent to sickness and death yet points towards the hope of redemption. It depicts life as a slow process of dying. After death, there is spiritual rebirth. “ we have a winding in our mothers wombe.. for we come to seeke a grave.”(Death duels 3)  He depicts the horrendous images of been eaten by the worms. However at the end there is the image of Jesus dying on the cross that gives hope of life after death. In this sermon which he gave as he was approaching his death, he depicts death as inevitable stage in life. It is worth to note that he refers to physical death. The theme of death is deeply explored by both the poem and the sermon. Death is ultimate fate of human being, as expressed by the two works . However, in both works, Donne depicts life after death, that is, the spiritual rebirth. Hence, in both the sermon and poem, the theme of hope is evident. On the other hand, there is a difference between the way Donne approaches the subject death in his poem and the sermon.  The poem “Death not be proud” depicts death as an opportunist that depends on luck, disease, and murder to rob people of their lives. He also does not subscribe to the belief that death is powerful. However, in ‘’Deaths Duel”, he describes life as a process of dying right from the beginning. He also portrays a horrendous process. He dwells on the horror of been eaten by worms. Scary description of death indicates that death is fearsome, gruesome, and powerful contrary to what he to describe it in “Death be not be proud’.

            In  “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”, the persona tells his lover that their separation through death should not be an occasion for sorrow and mourning. Instead, it should be akin to the way virtuous men die mildly and without complaint. In this poem, Donne professes a devotion to spiritual love that transcends the merely physical one. The persona declares that since the lovers’ souls are one, his departure to the spiritual word will only expand the area of their unified souls rather than separating them. The assertion implies that there is life after death. That emotional connectedness, according to the speaker, should not be by any means be severed by the physical separation that is occasioned by death. In one his sermon, “Grace Leading to Repentance” Donne glorifies Christ. He saved mankind. He depicts Christ as a generous person who gives his best treasure and knowledge. Additionally, he asserts that it is upon knowing Christ and accepting him that mankind finds the grace that leads to repentance. This contradicts valediction poem that in as much as it talks about spiritual life, it does not touch anything on repentance of sins. In the poem, the speaker devotes his energy on the earthly love and security of emotional love while the sermon concentrates much on the love of Christ. However, both works explore the theme of love.

In his sermon, “No Man is an Island”, John Donne’s explores the idea of the connectedness of people. People are not isolated islands, they are connected, and if a person dies everyone is affected. This contradicts his poem “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” when he tells his lover that his death should not be an occasion of sorrow and mourning. The speaker in the poem does not put premium on the feelings of people after death, unlike in the sermon. However, both works explore the idea of connectedness in teams of feelings.

John Donne’s Poetry work explores the themes of pleasure/lust while his sermons deal with spiritual matters. In “The Flea”, John Donne uses flea in which the persona is attempting to establish a sexual union with his significant other. After the rejection by the woman, he twists the argument making the earlier request of making love insignificant. The flea is metaphorically used to represent sexual union. When the flea bites him and the woman, he says that their blood has mingled hence they are united in intimacy. He suggests that through the flea, they are married. The flea is a symbol of union, marriage, and consummation of intimacy.  The persona is depicted as a lustful human being who is solely concerned with fulfilling his lust. The same is replicated in “Elegy XIX” (To His Mistress Going to Bed 33) which is a love poem. It is packed with seductive language. The speaker convinces his lover to undress and come bed. At the end of the poem, the speaker undresses as a way of demonstrating how the lover should be. In this poem, he claims his love for a naked woman surpasses pictorial representation of biblical scenes. In both poems, John Donne addresses the subject of earthly pleasures. In Holy Sonnets, “Batter my Heart three-personed God” the speaker asks God  to perform actions that would be extremely sinful from battering him to raping him in order to purify him.  In his holy sonnet XVII, reveals the speaker’s anguish over fragmentation of church.  He wonders where Christ’s ‘spouse’ dwells.  More puzzling, is how he depicts image of the church as a promiscuous wife for embracing and being open to all men. As illustrated in these three poems, it is worth noting that there is contrast between his religious sermons and his love poems. He is divided between religious spirituality and his lust for pleasure in life.  He blends his poems, particularly with spiritual, holy, physical and secular language. 

His sermons specifically address matters concerning religion and the spiritual word. There is a dichotomy between his sermons and love poems. The sermons suggest anxiety, and uncertainty continued to be hallmark of Donne’s religious observance. The sermons sound the height of spiritual rapture as well as plumbing the depths of existential and eschatological doubt. In his sermons, John Donne imitates a divine model offering a hard won assertion of faith that engages the mind as well as the soul. This contradicts his assertions in his love poem whereby  he uses seductive and lustful language. Additionally he employs amoral overtones that makes his works seems pornographic or verbal striptease to some.

John Donne’s work of poetry and prose has similarity in the use of style. In “Meditation 17”, he uses extended metaphor. The bell and the island are extended metaphors. The bell tolls signal a physical death but not the spiritual one. In this work, it signals the Eternal Minister who is God to assemble his congregation in heaven. In “Deaths Duel”, life has been described as the process of dying. Resurrection in his poem is a sign of hope and life after death. In a nutshell, resurrection has been metaphorically used to give hope. Moreover, death is a transitional period from earthly life to the eternal life in heaven.  In his poem, The Flea, biting and drawing of blood by the flea implies both the speaker and his lover are sexually connected, since they are already married in the body of the flea. Their blood mingles through the flea. Metaphorically, the flea is a sexual organ since it facilitates the copulation.


In conclusion, the prose and poetry work of John Donne have similarity in terms of style and theme.  Some of poems and sermons have explored widely the theme of death. On the other hand, John Donne as a writer contradicts himself in his work. While his sermons are religiously and spiritually packed in terms of language and theme, his holy sonnets dwell much more on graphic description of intimacy and love. The juxtaposition of his work has clearly shown the similarity and difference between his prose and poetry work.

Work cited

Raymond, Jean.  Frontain. John bonne’s performances, sermons, poems, letters, and devotions winter,2014

Donne, John.  Death duels, and poetry foundation. Accessed on 6 December 2017

Donne, John. Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed Accessed on 6 December 2017