Thursday, June 23, 2011

O death, where is thy sting?

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O Death, Where is Thy Sting?

One thing that is certain in mortal life is that it will come to an end for everyone. There are no exceptions; everyone will meet their end. Death will place its cold unmerciful hand into every mortal’s life at the time appointed by God. Regardless of religion and beliefs, every person will give an account for their life on earth and what they have done or not done with Jesus Christ and his offer of salvation. John Donne addresses his final destination in his Holy Sonnet VI. This sonnet entitled “This is My Play’s Last scene,” is Donne’s testimony of the peace he has found with the nearness of death in his life. Having an understanding of the author’s difficult past will assist in properly interpreting this piece of literary art.

John Donne was born into a Roman Catholic household in London, England. Donne’s father died when he was very young leaving he and his siblings to be raised by their mother. After having some difficulties in school, Donne secretly married the daughter of a nobleman and converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism. These choices made for an extremely trying and difficult life for the aspiring writer. More troubles following John Donne throughout the remainder of his life, including the death of his wife at a very young age. Awareness of these events helps to provide a deeper insight into the mind of the author and the perspective that he held on life. His difficult background can be heard through his work.

The theme of this poem is Donne addressing and accepting the nearing completion of his mortal life. Donne realized that his years left on earth were dwindling, and he wanted to clearly state what was going to happen to him upon the event of his death. The last portion of the poem speaks of the ultimate destination of sin and evil when it is finally put to rest. The separation from evil and death seems to give John Donne all the reason he needs to be at total peace in the face of death.

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This piece was written in the early 1600s to the general public. The work was a written testimony of the faith that Donne had in the security of his future in Jesus Christ. The wording used in the poem makes it clear that John was writing to an audience that he assumed was familiar with the biblical concept of redemption through Jesus Christ and an eternity in Heaven. The poem was written in the first person perspective. Donne was speaking about the inevitable nearness of death. This may have been an occasion where Donne was writing down his own thoughts and reflections on life rather than trying to create a literary masterpiece.

The format of the piece is fourteen straight lines that are not divided in any way. The poem has a nice even flow as it is read through. Every sentence rhymes with at least one other sentence in the poem. The lines range from to 1 syllables, according to their placement in the piece. The language used in the poem is relatively simply and Donne avoids the use of hard to understand or obscure words. Donne cleverly uses simple language to create a very intricate and detailed picture in a very short time. Some of the language found in this Holy Sonnet has an old English flavor, showing the age of the piece.

Several words and phrases are found in this sonnet that seem to be of particular importance and significance. The first word that stands out is found repeatedly in lines one through four. “This is my play’s last scene; here heavens appoint / My pilgrimages last mile; and my last race / Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace, / My span’s last inch, my minutes last point” (Donne 1-4). The word “last” is repeatedly used in these lines, giving it undeniable significance to the setting of the poem. Without question, Donne is referring to the completion of his life. Other significant words used in this piece include “death, earth-born, hell,” and “evil” (Donne 5, 10, 11, 1). These powerful words assist in setting the context for the poem.

Holy Sonnet VI opens with Donne explaining the situation in which he finds himself. He is standing at deaths door, acknowledging the end of his mortal life. The poem then moves into an account of his death as he foresees it, and tells of the effects on his mortal body. The author ends the piece by telling that death, and sin and evil will all be put to rest and away from him as he ascends into the presence of God. This conclusion offers a sense of closure and a feeling of satisfaction for the reader.

This poem can be easily applied to daily Christian living as believers are constantly tried and tested through both life experiences and the experience of death in their own lives. John Donne clearly had his faith in Jesus Christ regarding his future on the other side of the touch of death. Donne had applied the principle found in I Corinthians 155. This text says, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave where is thy victory?” (Bible). John Donne was ready and willing to face death, knowing that his fate was held in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ and that he would be separated from evil forever. It should be every Christians desire to be in a place where they are also ready to face death knowing that they are in the Lord’s watchful care.

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