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Duffy and Donne and their portrayal of the loss of identity

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IB English Assessment II Identity and distinctiveness has habitually been subjected to in most of John Donne's poems, in this case the "Holy Sonnet IV", as has been questioned in Carol Ann Duffy's "Originally". In these poems, which have been written centuries apart, both poets display well the loss of identity suffered by them and the great impact of it on their lives. The mood and tone of the poems have been well woven, however Donne's poem distinctly involves feelings of guilt and remorse whereas in Duffy's, there is a sense of lost. John Donne was born in 1572, under the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It is as true to entitle him as a seventeenth-century poet as an Elizabethan one, nonetheless he is seen to mock the Elizabethan, Petrarchan poetry more often than praise. During the time, England as a whole had become Protestant but Donne and his family were Roman Catholic. They had had a difficult time, with many Catholics being condemned to death or imprisoned, and in Donne's case not receiving degrees from universities like Cambridge and Oxford. However he realized he would have no career if he remained a Catholic and hence went Protestant; the heartache he suffered to leave the religion of his family was perceptible in his writings. ...read more.


The narrative poem "Originally" in the first stanza talks about the pain of leaving an environment one is so well-known with to moving on to the difficulties of acclimatizing into a new place and lastly highlighting what happens after a period of change, when it is not in one's control. "Holy Sonnet IV" on the other hand displays persistently a sense of guilt and abandonment, until the volta. On the whole however the poem has a negative, remorseful mood to it. This mood is brought out by the usage of words and phrases like "black Soule", "done/ Treason", "dam'd and hal'd to execution" "summoned/ By sicknesse", "holy mourning blacke" and similes like "like a thiefe" where Donne compares his soul to a thief, wanting to escape the prison but as the death sentence approaches, wants to reside in it. He has also used the metaphysical conceit, Donne's famous usage of a literary technique, by comparing his soul to a thief and the body to a prison. This shows how the speaker is seen to be struggling with himself, and this extensive use of emotions makes the readers believe him effortlessly. ...read more.


At the sestet, he talks about how his red, sinned soul can still be made pure, but uses a rhetorical question - "But who shall give thee the grace to beginne?" showing the helplessness and insecurity he feels towards his identity. The volta brings out a twist, by creating a sense of hope "Yet grace, if thou repent, thou canst not lacke". The rhyme scheme for the octate is abba abba whereas for the sestet is ababcc. This rhyme and structure of the poem pulls the poem forward and gives it a constricted feel, which match with his emotions. The line length remains the same more or less for all, the line "But dam'd and hal'd to execution" being the shortest also creating the abruptness of death. Duffy's poem is in free verse, with equal length paragraphs. This again highlights the difference of time periods in which the poems were written. Thus, both Duffy and Donne manage to highlight the sense of loss of identity and its importance through varyingly different ways. By being catapulted into a new set of social, or religious circumstances both poets have felt the loss of identity and effectively display it in their poems. The realization that displacement hurts and is traumatic to one is without doubt illustrated. ...read more.

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