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John Donne was born as a Catholic in 1572, at a time when England was full of anti-Catholic feelings and the Catholic was annoyed by secret polices of Elizabeth queen. His religious took away many opportunities from him and "his point of view," according to Norton Anthology of English Literature, "was always that of an insecure outsider."(P.586) He lost his father suddenly at the age of four and his mother, Elizabeth, had to breed three children alone; her mother was daughter of playwright John Heywood and was Sir Tomas More's relative. John Donne's brother died in prison because of a fever in 1593 because he defended The Catholic. His death had a great influence on Donne and he questioned his religion but finally he converted to Anglican religion. He wrote his book Satire during this perid which was considered as one of most important works by Donne. Having been the Member of Parliament foe Brackly, secretly he married seventeen-year-old Anne More who was niece of Lady Egerton. A the height of John Donne's flourishing and improving, his wife died on August 15, 1617 at the age of thirty three after giving birth to her twelfth child. Donne was struck by her death and grief and onwards he wrote no other love poem and wrote the holy sonnet XVII "Since she whom I lov'd hath paid her last debt" for loss of her wife.
According to the very concise and brief biography of John Donne, it can be assumed that he got familiar with death from the very early age of his life, obsessed with it, and felt bitter taste of death and loss during is life very well. Complexity personality of John Donne overshadows his poetry and it can be seen in his attitude toward concept of death which is paradoxical and deconstructive. He was hypnotized with the mystery of death. The image of death and its byproduct sentiments in John Donne were completely different from the other's attitude toward death and he sometimes adored death, sometimes mocked it, and in the other times belittled death. Donne believed in existence of life after death and according to his Christian world and believing in afterlife, he was not afraid of death and applied it as a means to reach the eternal and everlasting life in the glory of heaven, the promised land of Lord wherein there is no more death and all shall rest in peace forever. Most of John Donne's works dealt with death directly or indirectly but death is an unimportant matter for him while others fear for death. He wanted to have superiority over the horrible face of death rather than being its slave and victim. This paper intends to study the notion of death which is deconstructed by John Donne in his three poems as "Death, be not proud, though some have called thee", "A valediction: Forbidding Mourning", and "Since she whom I lov'd hath paid her last debt".
In his holly poem X, "Death, be not proud, though some have called thee", he presents the death before our eyes and disparages it as much as possible. From the very beginning of the poem," Death, not to be proud, though some have called thee/Mighty and dreadful for, thou art not so" , John Donne reminds death not to be proud of yourself since you are not what other imagine and from this time he deconstruct the horrible and dreadful conception of death and break its icon. He rebels against traditional understanding of death and wants to give a new meaning and image of this frightened death. Here it can be said that "some" in the first line of poem can refer to the poet himself who dares o face death and summoned it. In the following lines, For those who thou think'st thou dost overthrow/Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me", he reject the power of death and makes himself more powerful and the one who can escape from death. He believes that this is the God who creates the death and death is a part of creation as other creatures and has no more power over others. Gradually, he tries to justify his reason for deconstructing the image of death and in further lines" From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be,/Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,/And soonest our best men with thee do go,/Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery." He shows that death is not the end of our life but the end of our earthy life which is mortal and death is a gift from God which bestows us our immortal life in heaven. It is not possible for human beings to be immortal without dying so even "our best men" wait to be taken away with death to their deathless lives. Moreover, death is like sleep, a sweet sleep, which not only gives rest to physical bodies and bones but also brigs freedom for souls; it lets human's souls return to glorious Jesus Christ. Death is consider as a gateway, a transitory stage, between earthy and afterlife world. By mentioning "our best men with thee do go" John Donne grants a positive attitude toward death for those who are afraid of death and recalls his readers that death is not a punishment from God which is received only by a few people but it happens for all human being, even for noble and best men and everyone should endures it for getting to admired heaven. Death is the last chapter of living in earthy world and the rest continues in world after death. Donne continues his poem by wounding death's power and list other elements which death depends on them for killing people, elements such as fate, chance, king, and desperate men. For him, death cannot make the lives of people ceased alone and needs other partners; therefore, death is not something special and has no superiority over other and like other creatures should waits for proper chance, "poor Death". Finally, the poem ends in lines"One short sleep past, we wake eternally/And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die." And here the poet mock and destroy death completely. After awakening from a short sleep, all will live forever with no death; death is deconstructed and removed from afterlife completely and ceases to exist. Death has no room in the life after death and loses its horrible images in the mind of human being. John Donne displays the true nature of death against public's perception and death is no more "Mighty and dreadful"; it is like a short sleep which result in eternal life so there is no reason to be afraid of death. He breaks down the fear of death and dramatizes its weakness and dependency.
Next poem is another holly sonnet XVII, "Since she whom I lov'd hath paid her last debt" , which is a love poem overshadowed by separation and death. Donne's wife's death in 1617makes him a great source of inspiration for his poetry. This holly sonnet is about his love toward his dead wife and her loving memory. Mixture of love and death, two contrary concepts, are presented in this poem by Donne to reason death in favor of love and remind his reader the transitory gateway of death. According to the first line, Ann is breathing her last moments and is going to leave this earthy world. She shall not be on the earth anymore but her absence on this earthy life guarantees her presence in a peaceful and glorious life beside her Lord. In this sonnet, like the previous one, the theme of poem is death but a death which lacks its power in another world. In the previous poem, John Donne mocks death because he managed to defend humankind against death but here he attacks death as a opposition and objection to God he is defeated by God who is taking his wife away but later on he tries to use her death profitably and turns his thoughts and love toward God. Although in lines "though I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed/A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.", he make attempts to deemphasizes his wife's death and transfers all of his love to God completely, he is not successful and this time he complain deity. In this poem, Instead of belittling death, he criticizes God for creating death which made him separated from his wife.
One of the major poems of John Donne is "A valediction: Forbidding Mourning", which separation or death alongside with love is presented. In this poem, a man is preparing her beloved for saying goodbye to his beloved and simultaneously he persuades her that their separation, maybe the man's death, shall not destroy their true love but strengthens it in other way. According to the name of the poem "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", the poet from the very beginning of poetry asserts that there is a valediction but there is no mourning. His strong belief in death as a gift from the Holly Father spreads throughout the poem to make the reader aware that death is not something awful and it does not make people separated but grants them more closeness. The man is giving away to death gently and in the following lines "So let us melt, and make no noise, /No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move; /Twere profanation of our joys /To tell the laity our love." He wants to heightens their love and reminds his beloved that death make their love perfect and she should not mourn and cry over his death. The word "melt" can be considered as transforming to other afterlife and a change in physical status. He compares their love with earthquake and says to his love that earthquake is dreadful and destroys anything but our relations, even after my death, shall cause no harm to our love and death make no harm but closeness and assures her that their separation, or death, can not annoy them. After death their eternal love changes to spiritual love and he appreciates death because it removes the four elements which made their physical body" Absence, because it doth remove/Those things which elemented it" and close them to their spiritual togetherness in afterlife; their souls shall be placed above elemental and physical world and shall be holly and refined."But we by a love so much refined, /That ourselves know not what it is, /Inter-assurèd of the mind, /Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss" Again in this poem like the holly sonnet X, death is welcomed since it glorifies their love and make them eternal. Death is not that terrible image and concept which is forbidden but is accepted gladly. Death makes them together in afterlife where there is no more separation and death since "And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die." The poem assimilates their love to a compass that his beloved is placed in the center and the poet traveled around the world and makes a circle. In last lines "Such wilt thou be to me, who must/Like th' other foot, obliquely run; /Thy firmness makes my circle just,/And makes me end, where I begun." John Donne talks about the circle as a symbol of perfection and mentions that his death and separation of his beloved is necessary in order to be perfect and death gives human being to return to the Eden and experiences perfection and glory one more time. John Donne did not fear death like others because of his faith to Christian theology assures him about afterlife world full of love, peace, and kindness so mourning is forbidden.
In holly sonnets X, XVII, and the poem A valediction: Forbidding Mourning", a juxtaposition of death and love is displayed. Traditionally, people believe that death is against love so they curse death and try not to mention it in their talk as much as possible. But what John Donne tries to show his readers is that death is a necessity for human being and it should be appreciated since it grants us living in other world without death, separation, and sadness. A world in which people will live by their Holly Father and rest in peace forever, both physically and spiritually and the existence of death stops in that world. John Donne treats poetry subjects such as love, death, and religion in an unconventional manner. He believes in immortality of man after his death. "His poems," according to Sara Thorn in her book Mastering Poetry, "are full of original ideas and often revolve around a central paradox in which he challenges conventional mortality."(P.144) his voice is an iconoclastic voice about man's life and his attitudes toward different subjects.