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Holy Sonnet VI: This Is My Play's Last Scene, Here Heavens Appoint Analysis

Author: Poetry of John Donne Type: Poetry Views: 838

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This is my play's last scene, here heavens appoint

My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race

Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace,

My span's last inch, my minute's latest point,

And gluttonous death, will instantly unjoint

My body and soul, and I shall sleep a space;

But my ever-waking part shall see that face,

Whose fear already shakes my every joint:

Then, as my soul, t' heaven her first seat, takes flight,

And earth-born body in the earth shall dwell,

So fall my sins that all may have their right

(To where they're bred, and would press me) to hell.

Impute me righteous, thus purged of evil,

For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devil.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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John Donne wrote a total of 19 sonnets he titled \"The Holy Sonnets.\" When it came to their form, Donne very loosely followed the Petrarchan style for all 19. In the first eight lines--the octet--he presents readers with a problem, idea, or situation. And in the following six lines--the sestet--he presents an answer to the problem or comments on the idea or situation.
In this poem, however, he turns the Petrarchan style on its head—in the sestet that comes first, he presents the problem of impending death, while in the octet that follows, he explains how one can have victory over death.
The narrator of the poem is facing imminent death. Many of Donne’s poems are meditations on death during illness. The poem presents a catalogue of the human life. His race is \'idly yet quickly run.\' \'I shall sleep\' and yet have an \'ever-waking part.\' The \'fear [which] already shakes my every joint\' is contrasted sharply with the utter confidence that \'my ever-waking part shall see that face\' and \'my soul to heaven... takes flight.\' The poem is, thus, about the utter certainty of death, and the quiet confidence in the life to come thereafter.
The poem explained:
Lines 1-4: If the narrator in the poem were a character in a play, this would be the play’s last scene. The narrator is in the eleventh hour before death will overtake him, and he knows it. He alludes to the Christian doctrine that life and death come to us by divine appointment. The moment “appointed” for his death—for the end of his brief ‘pilgrimage’ on earth—is almost upon him.
If the narrator were a runner in a race, this would be his ‘last mile’—his final lap. He has come to the home stretch on this race, which he has ‘idly, yet quickly run.’
If the duration of his life were to be measured by tape, this would be his ‘span’s last inch’. If the duration of his brief time on earth were to be but a minute, this would be that ‘minute’s last point’.
Line 5
Death, described here as a ‘gluttonous’, ever-hungry, all-consuming monster, will, in the wink of an eye, separate the narrator’s body and soul from each other—forever.
Lines 6-10:In death, the narrator shall get to sleep but a moment, ‘a space’. For his soul, that immortal, ‘ever-waking part’ of him will be transported in the twinkling of an eye to the presence of God, the fear of whom already makes every nerve and sinew in his body quiver.
His soul, referred to by Donne here in the feminine gender ‘her,’ will be transported to heaven by ‘flight.’ Heaven is described here as the soul’s ‘first seat’, or first home, meaning of course, that the soul will return to where it came from. While the soul, the eternal constituent of every individual, takes flight to heaven, the body, ‘earth-borne’ and therefore, perishable, returns to the earth to perish with it.
Lines 11&12: The narrator then addresses his sins, and tells them to go where they are destined—to hell, the place they compelled him to go as well.
Lines 13&14
But the narrator himself is destined for other places—for heaven, to be precise. Donne borrows heavily here from the Christian doctrine of salvation—that sinners who believe in Jesus and repent of their sins will benefit from His atoning death on the cross on their behalf. Christ, being sinless, died as substitute for sinners, so that His righteousness might be ‘imputed’ to them at the final judgment. Thus purged once and for all of the three evils—the world, the flesh, and the devil—he would be ready to embrace the One he has trusted in.
By Shaju George Alex

| Posted on 2011-07-28 | by a guest

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