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John Donne's use of death


            John Donne uses poetry to explore his own identity, express his feelings, and, most of all, he uses it to deal with the personal experiences occurring in his life. Donne's poetry is a confrontation or struggle to find a place in this world, or rather, a role to play in a society from which he often finds himself detached or withdrawn. This essay will discuss some elements of John Donne's biography and how the issue of death is brought about in his Holy Sonnet 10, commonly called, "Death be not proud".
             John Donne was born into a prosperous Roman Catholic family in London in 1572. He was surrounded by many periods of grief in his lifetime. First, in 1576, Donne's father died suddenly and left three children to be raised by their mother, Elizabeth (Jokinen 1). Then, in 1593, Donne's younger brother Henry died of a fever in prison after being arrested for giving sanctuary to a proscribed Catholic priest (Jokinen 1). This incident made Donne question his faith and as a result, he converted to Anglicanism during the 1590s (Jalic 2). In 1601, John Donne secretly married seventeen-year-old Anne More (Jokinen 2) but then, a short sixteen years later, just as Donne's fortunes seemed to be improving, Anne Donne died, on August 15, 1617, aged thirty-three, after giving birth to their twelfth child, a stillborn. Sadly, only seven of their children survived their mother's death (Jokinen 3). Donne, now being obsessed with the idea of death, preached what was called his own funeral sermon, "Death's Duel", just a few weeks before he died in London on March 31, 1631 (Jokinen 3). .
             These harsh experiences brought out a fascination with death in John Donne. "Death be not proud" is a short poem written in Shakespearian style, which deals with the timeless subject of death and dying. Donne uses this poem to express his view that death is not something to be feared, as it oftentimes is, and has been, since the beginning of time.


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