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Donne -Hymne to God My God in my Sickinesses- John Donne

 

Subject Matter:

This hymn (song of praise) according to Izack Walton, was written 8 days before his death.   Notice the possessive “my”, indicating Donne’s assurance that he is in direct communion with his God.

He appears to know that his death is imminent and he is quietly confident that he will soon be united with his god.

Throughout history, our shifting attitudes toward death have become evident through literature. Death can be seen as our ultimate defeat in life.

DEATH is the final reality of human life, and not just for the banal reason that we are all destined to die in the end but, more importantly, because the finiteness and vulnerability of our existence in this world is what gives urgency, meaning and even nobility to human life.

Homer saw this, in The Iliad, with a burning clarity. Mortality is what lends poignancy to our experience, gravity to our moral choices.  His heroes love life strength and beauty, but their duty, their noble rank, and the position in which fate has placed them leaves them no noble choice but to face death with the courage befitting a warrior.  CHRISTOPHER ALLEN 

It was European Medieval Christianity that depreciated the value of our earthly life, placating the masses with promises of eternal bliss in a heaven paved with gold – the more you suffer on earth’s pilgrimage, the better your heavenly reward.  An excellent ploy, by the rich and mighty, to rationalise the disparity of wealth.

Horace had given rise to the Carpe Diem philosophy, not reborn until 19th C. Europe.  As capitalism gave distributed wealth more evenly, people began to demand not only more political power but a comfortable lifestyle putting more emphasis on heaven on earth than a delayed reward.

Tone:

The poet is much more placid, content and pacified.  He is assured and anticipating his imminent death with composure and a lyrical acceptance. His mystical visions of entering paradise, though presumptuous, are anticipated with penitential humility:

Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;

Themes:

Donne confidently accepts his death knowing that he has done all he can to receive God’s grace of forgiveness.  He is assured that though he is travelling west (towards death) he will end up in the East (the rising sun, resurrection) and meet his maker.  

His extreme suffering has purged and prepared him for paradise:

As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
    May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.

So, in His purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord ;
    By these His thorns, give me His other crown ;

Though he has Adam’s original sin, he also has Christ’s sacrificial blood to allow him to be received by a purple gowned Diety.

Though we are all sinners, the grace of Christ’s blood can save us.

Poetic Technique

Pun:  Straits – narrow passages of water between land and tough periods of time.

 

Conceits:

1.    Musical -   I shall be made Thy music;

2.    Cartologist - Cosmographers, and I their map

    That this is my south-west discovery,
    Per fretum febris, by these straits to die; 
 

South is the land of heat – fever and west, the setting sun – death.

The Straits refer to openings to:

Anyan – Behring Strait – the North West Passage

Magellan - to the Pacific – Peaceful sea of rest.

Gibraltar – to the Mediterranean  - the Holy lands.

 Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.  Sons of Noah who inherited the following lands:

 Japhet   - Europe
 Cham,   - Africa

 Cham,   - Africa

 Shem.   - Asia


3.    Voyageur - I joy, that in these straits I see my west ; (death)

Language:

The language of logic and reasoning. Donne sounds confident of his entry into paradise and uses concrete language and images to argue his case.

Paradoxes:

1.    East and West are the same:
                                       

         As west and east
    In all flat maps—and I am one—are one,
    So death doth touch the resurrection.

2.        We think that Paradise and Calvary,
    Christ's cross and Adam's tree, stood in one place

3.        By these His thorns, give me His other crown ;

4.        “Therefore that He may raise, the Lord throws down.”

Donne loves to demonstrate that though things appear to be different, they can be seen as similar.

Evaluation:

 

 


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