Thursday, May 31, 2007

Saturday May 31

Death (by John Donne)

Death be not proud though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so:
For those whom thou thinkest thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me
From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow;
And soonest our best men with thee do go --
Rest of their bones and souls delivery!
Thou'rt slave to fate, chance, Kings and desperate men
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke. Why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we woke eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death thou shalt die!


Matt's Notes

Papa has tilted back and forth over the past few days as the urge to give in to despair over his father's death has attempted to erode the integrity of his essentially optimistic, altruistic character. He has written, movingly, of his last moment with his father; he has suffered a bout of self-pity, but he has also countered with a surge of resolve; and today, he shows the clearest sign yet of his desire to master his grief, exploring and challenging death itself with the help of John Donne.

I don't pretend to have any scholarly knowledge of Donne's work (when I saw the T.V. adaptation of the memoir "Death Be Not Proud" in the 70's, I thought the phrase was a statement of fact -- "death is not proud," whatever that would have meant, as opposed to a direct challenge to death's pride -- and even though I've since learned otherwise I've never been able to shake my "wrong" impression) though I certainly do think the famed poem above indicates a mixed relationship with the idea of death; does Donne truly mock it or does he kind of want to give it a try himself?

In any case, I think Papa reads Donne's poem, at this moment in his life, as a rallying cry, paying more attention to its final line "Death thou shalt die!" than to its more ambivalent sentiments (the sure, bold hand with which he transcribes the poem conveys a sense of assertiveness, too, as opposed to tearful midnight weepiness.) While Papa is certainly not done mourning, this entry is a good sign, and shows us an interesting moment in his struggle to grieve without giving in to despair. He is deciding, bit by bit, that the best way to honor his father's life is to live his own life well, and he's letting us watch.

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