John Donne


The portrait commissioned by Donne in his shroud during his last months

On this date in 1631 John Donne died at age 59.

Holy Sonnet X

Death be not proud, though some have callèd thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better than thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.

Frye on Donne in Words with Power:

In The Great Code I used the word “interpenetration” (167-8/189) tp describe this fluidity of personality in its complete form.  The word “love” means perhaps too many things in English and for many has an oversentimental sound, but it seems impossible to dissociate the conceptions of spiritual authority of love. The capacity to merge with another person’s being without violating it seems to be at the centre of love, just as the will to dominate one conscious soul-will externally by another is the centre of all tyranny and hatred.  John Donne uses a beautiful figure in this connection based on the metaphor of an individual life as a book.  The spiritual world, he says, is a library “where all books lie open together.” (CW, 26, 117-18)

Emma Thompson and Holy Sonnet X in Mike Nichols’s film adaptation of Wit after the jump.


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