From Sermons to Poetry
The King James Bible was an outstanding publishing success. The text has remained in print for 400 years, and has appeared in numerous formats. Some, such as the original printing, were large enough to be read in churches; others were much smaller and intended for personal study. Due to the quality of the work by the team of translators, and the widespread distribution of the KJB, the text has had a profound impact on the English language.
One of the earliest writers to embrace the KJB was the poet John Donne, Dean of St Paul’s cathedral. Donne, who is better known today for the erotic poetry written in his youth, was ordained in 1615 becoming Dean in 1621. Donne employed the language of the KJB in his sermons. His preaching was highly regarded and his efforts helped cement the popularity of the new Bible text.
John Donne went on to write Devotions upon Emergent Occasions in 1624. From the seventeenth Meditation comes the passage for which Donne may be best remembered:
No man is an Island, entire of itself.. .and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.
Margret Fetzer, John Donne's Performances: Sermons, Poems, Letters and Devotions (Manchester & New York, NY: Manchester University Press, 2010).
Robert H. Ray, A John Donne Companion (New York, NY: Garland Publishing, 1990).
Jennifer Clement, 'John Donne: Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions', in Treasures of the University of Canterbury Library, ed. by Chris Jones, Bronwyn Matthews and Jennifer Clement (Christchurch: Canterbury University Press, 2011), pp. 78-80.
John Donne Sermons. Searchable digital archive from the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
An example of one of John Donne's published sermons is Deaths duell, or, A consolation to the soule, against the dying life, and living death of the body, delivered at Whitehall in 1633. (Canterbury Staff/Students only)
John Donne, Devotions upon emergent occasions and severall steps in my sicknes. (London: Printed by A.M. for Thomas Jones, 1624).