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On 12 June 2005, one of the most outstanding people of our times Steve Jobs addressed the Stanford University graduates with these important words: “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share.” (Stanford Commencement Address). Yes, death is one of the saddest things in people’s life. No one can stand in the way of death when it comes and knocks persistently on one’s door. However, in the poem Death be not Proud, John Donne’s somber narration describes death as a temporary sleep; and Emily Dickinson’s poem, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, describes a journey symbolically in the company of death to the final little house swelling off the red earth, thus introducing the idea of something more ahead, some nice future after death. So the question is, death – is it the end?
Most people, if not all, would want to live again if they could do so with restored health and vigor in a world where peace prevails. Humans are unlike animals, we cannot accept the idea that after a death we are simply gone nowhere. This is the idea the two poets bring to the minds of their readers. In their poems, they share an opinion of death as a temporary stage of transition into the world of immortality (Ruth 205). Emily Dickinson asserts, “Because I could not stop for Death …The carriage held but just ourselves, and immortality” (190). Donne believes that “And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die” (Donne 108). Death is a short temporary sleep that will strike its victims and reward them with eternal life. Sleep will cease from life acquiring an immortal body. Everybody will wake up “updated” than one slept in a four-corner mound of earth (O’hara 166). Donne’s poem presents a proactive view of the unknown life after physical death as an interesting concept linking together happiness and immortality. Interestingly, sickness, hunger, war, and fear of harm are absent in life after death according to Donne. Reflectively, death is simply the right of passage into another form of living as numerous religious inclinations often believe. A conclusion can be made that Donne and Dickinson share the same views on death as being temporary, though an unfair experience.
The poets support their logic that death simply cannot be a fair ending for people, that it is rather a new beginning. Dickinson describes the journey to a cemetery as an unfair experience. The victim has to separate from his/her loved ones. Death as a theme takes the form of an indiscriminative visitor. The mortal body then separates from the rest of the society, the surrounding world, and every possession. She narrates, “My labor, and my leisure too” (Dickinson 190). “We passed the fields of gazing grain, We passed the setting sun” (Dickinson 190). The lines of the poem, Death Be Not Proud, by John Donne, also present the poet’s criticism of death’s boastful impermanent transitional stage of life. Although it often rocks families and leaves people feeling lonely, death is not as mighty as it seems. It only assumes the dreadful name because people believe it to be such. The poet asserts, “…though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art, not some” (Donne 108). Many times, human beings consider death as a humbler of the mighty, kings, royalty, and the less citizen, however, it is essential to dismiss this notion as hearsay from busybodies who are unwilling to accept the fact that the physical body is mortal and death only facilitates its replacement with the immortal body (Harold 97).
The poets use many literary devices to help them to develop their ideas as to death not being the end. There are six stanzas of four lines each in Dickinson’s poem, while there is only one in Donne’s poem. On the facets of literary device, Donne’s poem has rhyming phrases such as ‘bee, mee, and thee’ (Donne 108). However, Dickinson’s poem has no rhymes whereas it is more organized in stanzas. The narration of Donne’s poem adopts the complex language and grandiloquent phrases, while that of Dickinson is of a simple language composition and commonly used words. Both artists have the same technique in expressing the theme of death by christening it as a living entity. Dickinson calls death “He”. She asserts, “He kindly stopped for me” (Dickinson 190). Donne speaks of death as having qualities as if it a personality: “Death be not proud…”, “death… mighty and dreadful “, and capable of dying itself: ‘death, thou shalt die.” By such use of literary devices, both poets express their brave attitude to death and their faith in its being not the dreadful end but rather a new beginning.
In conclusion, it is important to mention that both poets believe in death not being the end. All the above-mentioned show that the two artists use their poetry to express their understanding of the dynamics of life. Donne and Dickenson present a critical view of death as a rite of passage and thus show death to be a permanent bridge to immortality and an important aspect of continuity according to them. Reflectively, humanity needs to embrace and accept it as a component of the life cycle, which is temporary. However, the two authors are silent on the evidence of an afterlife and base their views on assumptions that there exists another form after death. Interestingly, that both poets stress the fact that human beings need to appreciate and calmly embrace “him” as an impermanent bridge towards eternity. So, Donne and Dickinson share the same views on death as being temporary, though an unfair experience. The main contrast between the two poets’ attitudes expressed in Death Be Not Proud and Because I Could Not Stop for Death is in Donne’s addressing death more aggressively and throwing it a challenge and telling to “know its place”, while Dickenson expresses a calm and tender attitude to death calling it ‘him” and addressing it as a living soul. In addition, Donne is positive about the outcome of death but critical of the accompanying sorrow for the enduring loved ones, while Dickenson mentions nothing about these negative points. In contrast, she says death is a short temporary sleep, which will strike its victims and reward them with eternal life. Finally, from both authors’ poems, the idea is clear – they believe in life after death and encourage their readers to think over this important idea.
- Dickson, Emily. Poems by Emily Dickinson. Vol. 3. Oxford: Hayes Barton Press, 1955. Print.
- Donne, John. “Holy Sonnex X ‘Death Be Not Proud’.” John Donne: The Critical Heritage. Vol. 1. Ed. J. Smith. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.
- Harold, Bloom. “Bloom’s Major Poets Comprehensive Research and Study Guide.” Rev. of John Donne, Ed. D. Flicher. Infobase Publishing 1999: 94-122. Print.
- Jobs, Steve. Stanford Commencement Address. 2005.
- O’hara, Frank, and John Ashberry. “Accessibility and the New York School.” Rev. of Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 31, ed. George M. 2007:161-167. Print.
- Ruth, McNaughton F. “Emily Dickinson on Death.” Prairie Schooner Dickson E. Vol. 23. 1949: pp. 203-214. Print.