The poem, "Death be Not Proud" by John Donne, discusses dimensions of life and death, and their perceptions by an ordinary man. The concept of death is derived from reflection on some inevitable existence of the soul, but rather from a present experience of a different and higher quality of life. It came not by speculation as to what lay on the other side of death, but by the experience of a new sort of life in the present. It is only because of the present experience of fellowship with its promise of continuance that we are at all interested in an existence beyond death. Wherever the idea of life after death has appeared apart from this experience of a richer quality of life, it has been regarded as a curse--in short, hell. Thesis Using the theme of death as a metaphor of darkness and non-existence, the author creates a unique worldview and a strong desire for life and further existence.
Donne states that depth is inevitable but it can be terminated for some period of time. If today the existence of the soul could be proved, but not the reality of fellowship, for the common man this would point to the reality of hell, which is essentially separation from the world around. Whatever else eternal life means, it means life in presence. It is this, and not the speculation of comfort and bliss that is its significant content. Nevertheless, the issues raised by abortion are fundamental to the whole discussion of life and death decisions. Elsewhere, right to life or right to death decisions must be taken without specific statutory guidance at several points in life and each of these points poses its own particular problems. Donne writes:
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And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie (Donne),
In stressing the concept of dying, modern men are asserting that the continuing life with death is not a shadowy, partial existence, but the full life of the person. Some people today feel no difficulty in thinking of a completely spiritual existence, and thus they are more drawn to the concept. But many find it hard to conceive of a full life without some "body" by which the spirit can express itself. Utterly prosaic people, however, are apt to think of rebirth in strictly flesh and blood terms, and therein lies their difficulty. Death also means that the future life is not something man possesses merely as a human being. It is not our inevitable lo but a destiny.
Using the concept and metaphor of death, Donne underlines that humans are finite creatures. Death depends on the will of non-human matters. But the prophetic longing for the day when righteousness would be evident on earth projected hopes to the future generation that would be alive to enjoy the blessings when a new life should be established. Yet it was seen that something more than a hope for posterity should be the reward of those who struggled and died to establish righteousness. And when this recognition is coupled with the depth of experience, the idea of Death as art is born. Those who knows life would be raised to join the generation living when the new age is inaugurated. Donne states:
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 (Donne),
In many lines only the death of the just is anticipated, but wicked is also contemplated for the sake of a final judgment Donne never suggests that because of the general belief, death is not expected. It is always the other way around. The general belief gained acceptance because of the personal experience of those associated with death. The sort of objectivity that many people have in mind when they speak of the death --an appearance so concrete that had, say, It would have been of the nature of a "sign" to compel assent, the sort of sign that death so definitely denounced.
The death descriptions are objective, however, in the sense that they are not produced by imagination. This may be important, but it is not the most crucial issue. It rests on a faith even more fundamental. The faith is rather a trust in life, a trust which leaves the major issues of life in human hands, confident that they will not be betrayed. Reports of the dead having come to life cannot in themselves establish such a faith. The real point at issue is Jesus' Death in relation to his understanding of his life to whom a person committed himself. This is what is at stake. The testimony of the disciples is that those who have ventured so to trust others have seen ample evidence to justify their commitment. Donne skillfully identifies types of death for different people:
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow (Donne),
In other words, death does not produce the phenomena involved in life. It enabled the people to see and interpret phenomena whose source was elsewhere. In this sense their faith in life is not so much like a projector that throws on a screen the images fed into it, but more like a microscope that enables one to see things invisible to his naked eye but which are nevertheless there to be seen.
Donne clearly states that the theme of death is pictured differently by different people. Whatever imagery may be used is not meant as literal description but as stimulation to our imagination. In this usage language becomes more like a work of art that is capable of creating an over-all impression, rather than a vehicle of scientific accuracy. Writes:
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 then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then (Donne),
These lines give assurance of the poem’s basic meaning, but do not satisfy curiosity about details: So also with the hackneyed images of poppie, or charmes. Also, the theme of eternal rest so often applied to death has more meaning to those whose lives were unremitting weariness. For many of us, a picture of continued personal growth and service is more inviting. Perfection need not be thought of as a static goal. It can mean a maturity which is expressed in action. Death has always permitted great freedom in framing such an idea.
Donne states that ultimate Reality can never satisfy one whose experience, however ethereal, remains his own, even when it includes the human fellowship. It is not an impersonal "spirit of goodness" that we love in our friends, but those friends themselves. Nor can the idea of immortality only within the memory of the living be satisfactory. When the memory is lost something of priceless value is gone. People may cherish memories, but a memory and a person are two different things. While many think that the concept of personal immortality is the height of human egoism, the person feels that no other theory can adequately account for our experience. Jesus indicated what we all must surely admit, that the life fulfilled in heaven will not have the same limitations and relationships as life on earth, but that to be overly concerned about it is to doubt the power of life.
The traditional ideas of life and death serve to indicate that eternal destinies are at stake in this life. Donne speaks that a man himself is responsible for his existence. If one makes his decisions, constantly refusing to respond to the highest he knows, he is something less than a man. Perhaps death can best be defined as the loss, the eternal loss, of the unique qualities that make us men. But it is when eternal is linked with the idea of everlasting torture that most trouble arises in people's minds. Punishment that has as its goal the reclamation of a person is understandable and desirable. But punishment as some sort of nonending vengeance is beyond our sympathy and comprehension. People could find it easier to understand hell if there are the possibility that those existing in it might repent, and people could understand the eternal love more easily if they could think that in whatever eons might lie ahead, Life would be just as interested in man's liberation. The need is the view that ultimately love will prevail and all men will inherit eternal life. This does not discount the importance of moral earnestness or the reality of life and death issues that demand our decision. Others, holding that eternal life is definitely a positive quality which must be appropriated when the opportunity is presented to us, regard it as conditional--that those not responding simply cease to exist at death, and that only those who have found eternal life on earth will live on. Many regard this as basically more kind than eternal and unremitting punishment, and still a serious enough result of sin.
In sum, Donne creates a unique metaphor of death which symbolically portrays a desire for life and further existence. Still, the poet is not afraid of death portaging it as inevitable consequence of life. The traditional view emphasizes the absolute importance of death in this life, the fact that there may well come the time when the opportunity of decision is lost forever. Although the subject of eternal life taxes reason and imagination, it is important to the understanding of man. It asserts that the issues of life are not finally settled on earth and that one must look beyond physical existence if he is ever to understand the meaning of physical existence. It further asserts that the fullness of life is not a stage to which we all shall inevitably progress, but one which calls for our conscious choice, with entailed renunciations. And finally, it asserts that our fellowship, including all its ramifications in our relations with our fellow men, is the only enduring value because it is beyond the limitations of time.
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