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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

John Donne: The Genius Priest/Poet Who Saw Infinity and Triggered Stampedes At His Sermons

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John Donne was not a typical English clergyman. Before his ordination, the 17th century Anglican priest had worked as a poet, lawyer, pirate, satirist, politician, and chaplain to the King, before ultimately becoming dean of the St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. But it was his preaching and writing that made him famous. He was so popular that thousands came to hear him, nearly killing some attendees in a stampede in one incident in 1623.

It was his power over language that made him a celebrity. Most famous for his love poetry and erotic verse, Donne wrote about spirituality, and sex in a way that nobody else has, before or since. Taken together, Donne’s writings cements him as one of the finest writers in English, up there with Shakespeare.

Despite his fame at the time, today he is a mystery. No diary entries, firsthand accounts, or manuscript drafts of his poems remain. What we do know of his life is that he suffered incredible hardship. He was a father of 10, often lived in squalor, and wrote a treatise on suicide as a young man. Yet despite these problems, or perhaps because of them, he was full of awe and wonder and captured that better than any other writer of his time.
Today’s guest is Katherine Rundell, author of Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne. She discusses how Donne saw with such a unique perspective and how he set down what he knew with such precision and flair that we can seize hold of it and carry it with us today.
October 20, 2022
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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