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Views of Death in the poetry of John Donne

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Views of Death in the poetry of John Donne John Donne's complex personality plays an important role in his poetry. His intellect, and as a result his work, demonstrates various opinions that at times conflict or agree with each other. These opposing views represent one of the most fascinating aspects of his poetry. Seldom is this divergence presented as clearly and frequently as in the theme of death, as will be illustrated by the following essay. As with most poets of his time, Donne was obsessed with death. Mesmerized by its mysteries, charmed by its allure, and convinced of the existence of an afterlife (as a result of Christian theology), he finds himself at times unable to settle on a particular view of the subject. While a considerable portion of Donne's opus deals with death either directly or indirectly, some poems depict death as insignificant while others present it as something he, and therefore humans, should fear. As a Christian, Donne believed (although perhaps did not understand) the concept of an afterlife. This conviction is shown by his understanding of death as a necessary stage before reaching the glory of heaven, the promised life with God. ...read more.


The subsequent line explains both the physical and spiritual need for death, since it provides "rest of their bones, and soul's delivery." Not only will it rejuvenate the body, but also the spirit, readying it for the glorious return of Christ and the afterlife. The poem's next two lines wound death's pride and diminish its power, since Donne argues death cannot act alone. An accomplice is needed to complete its mischievous deeds. A rather comprehensive list of partners is presented: fate, chance, kings, and desperate men. Death's might must bow down to mere chance at times, and humans of such different ranks as kings and desperate beggars can obligate death to act. Thus, death is nothing special, if it can be ordered by men of such different walks of life. While poison, war, and sickness may result in death, its actual effect is as insignificant as the one resulting from mere exhaustion or drunkenness. Donne is convinced both death and sleep are the same type of action, and as result, he makes no distinction between them. The poem ends by remarking that after the resting period that death constitutes, humans will enter the afterlife, a period in which death itself will cease to exist. ...read more.


In Death Be Not Proud, Donne mounts an impressive tirade against death, culminating in a celebration of its lack of power. In Holy Sonnet XVII, his visions of death are not identical since an attempt to come to terms with his wife's absence forces yet another search of death's significance. One would be justified in thinking that his original idea about death is greatly influenced by his wife's decease, and Donne, unable to decide on a new opinion, embarks on a journey to find his true feelings, although sonnet XVII gives the impression he has yet to find them. Although the main focus of both poems is death, Donne's ego manages to steal the spotlight. In Death Be Not Proud, he manages to defend humankind against death, possibly because he feels he cannot be defeated by God. This claim is more explicitly shown in sonnet XVII, which commences as another attack on death but concludes as a protest against God for the taking of his wife. While he is indeed objecting to this action by God, the pain of loss of his wife overshadows his earlier beliefs and declarations against death. Carey writes that Donne's "feeling of loss is self-centered," (44) questioning the real motives behind the poem. This trait, however, is not exclusive to these sonnets, since it can be found in most of Donne's work. ...read more.

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