John Donne’s religious poetry is a fair demonstration of his inner conflict and the intensity of his feelings towards the supernatural being. Donne was a Catholic by birth; however, he became inclined to Anglicanism and consequently converted to this faith. Most of his religious poetry is influenced by Anglicanism faith and his conversion to it.
Apart from the metaphysical element in his poetry, the religious element is also quite visible and it lays bare the inner feeling of the poet for the creator, the God. Donne’s religious poetry depicts his struggle of converting to a different faith. The religious poems show that Donne is conscious of his sins and is turning to God in genuine repentance.
His experience of the death of his close relations including the death of his beloved wife instilled the fear of death within his heart. Everyone is afraid of death, but the way Donne describes his fear of Death in his verses is quite piercing. When Donne experiences his close relation in their deathbed and watches them suffering gravely, he turns towards God for his mercy. His religious poetry not only shows his fear of death and consequent turning towards God but also displays his awareness of his past follies and sins and his honest regret.
His holy sonnets are often regarded by many critics as poems of repentance and supplication for divine mercy and grace. The awareness of the temporariness of the world is also a theme in his religious poetry. He knows that this physical world is temporary and life here is nothing but fleeting moments of happiness and sorrow. The human souls are captivated inside human bodies and constantly craving to soar towards their Creator. The world or human body is like a prisoner for the souls, which restricts them from their divine alleviation and indulges them in the deceiving glitters of life. Donne turns towards Christ the Savior and the God so that he could undo his wrongdoings, which he did in this world. He loath the vanities of this world, however, he does not completely detach himself from, but his religious poetry shows his constant supplication for God’s deliverance.
The religious poetry of Donne is not didactic and he certainly does not wish to give moral teaching to his reader through it. His poetry is simply the reflection of his religious feelings and the unrest within his soul caused by his sins. Donne is the most sincere introspective religious poet of the 17th century.