, Research Paper
Throughout the writings of John Donne, many different influences were used to get his point across. None of these was used more often than the influence of death. Regardless of the overall subject of a poem, odds are death has been tied in as a theme. Perhaps John Donne s obsession with death comes from the fact that his era was one of aging and decline. Many people were dying of illness and plague, and many people were predicting the end of the world, and preparing for Judgment Day. It was through these influences that John Donne was oftentimes a poet of death. One of the most interesting points in Donne s work is that he could not decide on a particular viewpoint of death. In some poetry, death was portrayed as relatively insignificant while in others it was portrayed as something that should be feared by the entire human race. Donne knew that death was a necessity and that he could not reach the afterlife without it; however, he also expressed a great amount of fear toward death, searching for ways to overcome it instead of succumbing to it. Donne s fear of death led him to attempt to familiarize himself with it. He wanted to understand it in order to decrease his fear. One way he did so was through paintings. Donne hoped that pictures and paintings would tell the world who he was, and he expressed his sentiments in His Picture : Here take my Picture; though I bid farewell, Thine, in my heart, where my soule dwells, shall dwell. Tis like me now, but I dead, twill be more When we are shadowes both, than twas before (1-4).Donne wanted to capture his true essence through paintings of himself, and he wanted to illustrate his aging form in them. He felt that he could make himself immortal through art, so that he would be able to live on after his human form was gone. John Donne s worst fear was being forgotten. Since death essentially represented this, he wrote about death to rechannel his fears and belittle death as he did in the Divine Meditation 10 : Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so, For, those, whom thou think st, thou dost overthrow, Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me (1-4).Donne s comments that death could not kill him helped to reassure himself that by calling out death and isolating it, it would not be able to affect him. One of John Donne s biggest inspirations for his poetry was his wife s death in 1617. Donne dedicated an entire sonnet, Holy Sonnet XVII, to his wife s memory. He attempted to reiterate his belief of death as a transition between this life and eternal life. His effort to downplay his wife s death did not work as well as intended, however. With the lines though I have found thee, and thou my first hast fed / A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet (7-8), it appeared that Donne was unhappy with giving his wife to God in order to love him more. Donne came across more as complaining than honoring his wife.
The most serious idea connected with death in John Donne s work is that of Judgment Day. Being final, the idea seemed to irritate him throughout many of his works and sermons. As a religious poet, Donne related God closely with death, and the mention of one brought up the other. Donne knew that his fate was in God s hands, and he was paranoid enough to believe that he had a singular sin that would doom him. If nothing else it was the sin of fear. Donne feared God so much, and was afraid of God s rejection, that in Divine Meditation IX he challenged God: If poisonous minerals, and if that tree, Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us, If lecherous goats, if serpents envious Cannot be damned; alas, why should I be (7-10)?Donne even wished that God would delay Judgment Day for him, so that he might have had the chance to repent his sins. He did not want immediate judgment by God upon death and expressed his feelings in Divine Meditation VII : But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space, For, if above all these, my sins abound, Tis late to ask abundance of thy grace, When we are there (9-12).Donne was unable to shake death s influence, and his concerns were documented in one way or another in a considerable amount of his published work; however, he had difficulty maintaining a set opinion.In many of his works Donne wished to delay death; there were also many times where he seemed to welcome it. In Divine Meditation VII , he asked for death so that he could be resurrected afterwards: At the round earth s unimagined corners, blow Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise From death, you numberless infinities Of souls (1-4).This seems odd, since later on in the poem he would also ask God to delay Judgment Day for him. This is just an example of how Donne could not make up his mind. It is almost impossible to read the works of John Donne and not notice the presence of death in the work. As a religious poet, death was constantly on his mind, and he lived during a time of much death. Whether he wanted death postponed, hastened, or could not make up his mind, he was constantly under death s grip.