Author: Will Williams

Priestly Poets: Donne and Southwell as Writers for God

Henry Ward Beecher once said, “The strength of a man consists in finding out the way God is going, and going that way.” Both John Donne and Robert Southwell would likely agree with this assessment, though, ironically, their lives took strikingly different paths from one another. Donne and Southwell were both born into staunchly Roman Catholic families in the late 16th Century, at a time when Catholicism was illegal in England. However, Donne eventually renounced his denomination in favor of the more popularly accepted Anglicanism while Southwell, even in the face of oppression, remained an underground Catholic and was eventually executed for his beliefs. Although both poets turned their words to Holy Matters, Donne wrote from within the system, whereas Southwell used his words to subvert it. Comparing Southwell’s The Burning Babe to Donne’s Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward casts into sharp relief the poets’ conflicting perspectives, but it also accents the remarkable similarities that they nevertheless retain toward one another. Although their methods and style may differ, it is clear that Donne and Southwell are seeking the same God.