John Donne Sonnet 6 Analysis

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‘Intellectually, Donne had always been a Christian, but his progress toward religious assurance was hindered by his sense of Roman Catholic outlawry, his shift to the Church of England, his moral lapses, the worldly disaster of his marriage, and his restless mind.’ (Douglas Bush)
Consider the detailed treatment of ‘religious assurance’ in any three or four poems by Donne from the course.
John Donne was an extremely complex and interesting character and these complexities are reflected in many of his poems. Donne was born into a Catholic family at a time when Catholicism was forbidden in England and as a result, suffered persecution for his religion. He was penalised because of his Catholic faith whilst at university and was unable to obtain
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The speaker first personifies death and then belittles death by telling it that ‘though some have called thee/Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so’ . This shows that the speaker does not fear death and denying that death is either mighty or dreadful emphasises the speaker’s faith in an afterlife. Mary Arshagouni Papazian argues that Sonnet 6 ‘opens in defiance of the powers of death, a defiance made possible only through assurance of God’s undeserved Gift of mercy.’ This shows the reader that the speaker truly believes that their soul can be redeemed and, on the surface at least, demonstrates that the speaker has conviction in their religious beliefs. The speaker in Sonnet 6 lacks the religious anxiety that the speakers in many other Holy Sonnets demonstrate which leads the readers to believe that he is utterly assured that he has made the right decisions within his life. The sonnet ends with the lines ‘One short sleep past, we will live eternally,/And Death shall be no more. Death, thou shalt die.’ This demonstrates the speaker’s belief that death is merely a transition from this life to the next. However, while it is undeniable that the speaker believes in an afterlife, the type of afterlife the speaker believes that he will move on to is not stated. In this way, the initial reading of the poem, with the speaker accusing death of being neither ‘mighty’ or ‘dreadful’ can be interpreted as…show more content…
The sonnet opens with the lines ‘If poisonous minerals, and if that tree/Whose fruit threw death on else immortal soul.’ This clearly evokes the image of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and brings the idea of sin into the sonnet. The speaker talks of the ‘fruit’ cursing humanity with ‘death’ when they could have otherwise been immortal which shows that the speaker is contemplating the Original Sin which led to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden and ultimately brought suffering and pain to humanity. However, the speaker is not satisfied with simply accepting humanities sin. As the poem continues the speaker asks God why ‘If lecherous goats, if serpents envious/Cannot be damn’d alas why should I be? /Why should intent, or reason, born in me, /Make sins else equal, in me more heinous.’ This shows the speaker’s dissatisfaction with God and shows the reader that the speaker feels that the punishment that God has given to humanity is disproportionate when compared with the punishment that God has given to the Devil. This suggests that Donne’s speaker is jealous of creatures like the devil who are not damned because of their sins. Stachniewski states that ‘the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination (whereby the majority was foredoomed to damnation before being created) multiplied the causes for dismay.’ Calvinism was a popular denomination of the protestant
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