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Arrogant Attitudes of Humanity towards Death in Sonnet “Death Be not Proud”: Critical Analysis

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Through the close exploration of both john donnes holy sonnets and Margaret Edson’s post-modernist text wit, we are able to collect that context plays a vital role in the construction and understanding of a text. Both texts portray the flaws and faults of humanity and the necessity of individual redemption. Edson has managed to take the strong religious ideas of Donne’s poetry and even his metaphysical conceits and translate them into the secular world. Professor Vivian bearing, a ‘scholar of seventeenth century metaphysical poetry ‘, allows for a connection between Donne’s deeply spiritual and intimate writing, and the secular and emotionless world of the modern hospital ward.

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Donne’s increasing religious references are highly reliant on him being a clergyman but also due to his holy sonnet’s being written during the Jacobean era where there was a rise in protestant Christianity. He continues to engage with the big ideas of life, such as the increasing confidence of humanity, depicted in its attitude towards death. Donne expresses the arrogant attitudes of humanity towards death in his sonnet “Death Be not Proud”, whereby he states, “Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, but thou are not soe”. In the line he personifies the concept of death which greatly disempowers it. Donne portrays his Christian ideals on salvation and represents the strong optimism and confidence of humanity, by eliminating the perception of death being fearful. Comparably Edson’s text wit, also explores this central idea, however, it is reshaped in the context of a post-modernistic society. The portrayal of societies lack fear from impending death is shown through the protagonist Vivian bearing and her approach towards being diagnosed with cancer. In her stream of consciousness during her appointment she states” insidious. Mm curious word, cancer, cancer”. Edson’s utilisation of repetition and the analytical process reveals the preference of intellect to enhance their confidence towards death and its parallel cancer. Similar to how Donne conveys his intellect through the use of strong rhetoric in “From rest and sleepe, which by thy pictures be, much more than from thee, much more must flow”. The alliteration allows for a peaceful representation of death, eliminating the association of fear and further showcases Donne’s Christian beliefs. Conversely, in the sonnet” Hymne to god, my god, in my sickness”. Donne portrays their superiority and confidence in humanity, rather than emotional comfort in “physicians. …Lone grown cosmographers and I their Mapp”. During the renaissance period cosmography was a serious study and is cleverly used as a conceit to reveal the strong intellect. As such this idea has been reshaped in Edson’s text, through the scientist’s research and approach towards Vivian’s cancer. In particular when Jason Posner labels cancer as” immortality in culture”. Revealing the medical worlds preference on research rather than the emotional wellbeing of patients. Thus, both Donne and Edson expose the flaws of humanity and criticise their faults.

Another crucial fault of mankind is explored in the increasing power of intellect and the failure of humanity to understand the necessity of having emotional comfort. Donne reveals this in his poem “if poisonous minerals”, the title of the poem refers to sin and also the intellectual doubts which mentally challenge Donne, but he further exposes the downfall of humanity in “if lecherous goats and serpents envious cannot be damn’d, alas why should I be?”. The use of rhetorical question and tone reveals his frustration and intellectual contemplation as to why the pure man should be punished when the animals symbolic of “deadly sins” escape and are unscathed from god’s wrath. The key idea of poisoning the values and ideals of humanity is also creatively mirrored within Wit, revealed when Vivian says, “My treatment imperils my health”. The paradox depicts Vivian’s inability to grasp the “simple human truth”. This truth Donne also illustrates within his poem “death be not proud”, shown in “Nothing but a breath-a comma-separates life from life everlasting. “The positioning of the word”comma”portrays the importance of it metaphorically embodying the shortness of death.However Vivian fails to see this and thinks of it as a mere predantic case of punctuation.Her annoyance is revealed in “

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Arrogant Attitudes of Humanity towards Death in Sonnet “Death Be not Proud”: Critical Analysis. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 1, 2023, from
“Arrogant Attitudes of Humanity towards Death in Sonnet “Death Be not Proud”: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
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