John Donne (1572-1631) was born into a Catholic family and studied law before sailing with Essex to attack Cadiz in 1596. He was appointed secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper (later Lord Chancellor), in 1598, but forfeited his worldly prospects when he secretly married Ann More, Lady Egerton's niece, in 1601; he was dismissed by Egerton and briefly imprisoned. The next twelve years or so were passed in poverty, without regular employment. He entered the Church and in 1621 was made Dean of St Paul's, where he became a renowned preacher. His first collection of poems was published posthumously in 1633.
From joyful poems such as 'The Flea', which transforms the image of a louse into something marvellous, to the intimate and intense Holy Sonnets, Donne breathed new vigour into poetry by drawing lucid and often startling metaphors from the world in which he lived. His poems remain among the most passionate, profound and spiritual in the English language.