The Freedom of Death
edited: Tuesday, December 18, 2007
By Ed Kline
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2007
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My Literary review of Donnie, John. “Holy Sonnet 10: Death Be Not Proud.” & Seegar, Alan. “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.” & Smith, Stevie. “Not Waving But Drowning.”
There is something about injury, death, and destruction to which people are drawn. It seems that every night on television we fall asleep to the nightly news top story proclaiming some misfortune that has occurred, maiming or killing someone. So much so that such news becomes part of our daily routine. We become callous to death; yet we know so little about it. Death has been described in many ways: an ending, a beginning, even a new chapter into eternity. Questions about life and death are abundant. Perceptions of death found in poetry give us insight about ourselves, our beliefs, and the freedom of death.
To be free is “the right or the capacity of self-determination as an expression of the individual will.” (wikipedia.org) In many parts of the world we, as humans, live freely; but John Donne points out in his poem “Holy Sonnet 10: Death Be Not Proud” (786-87) that, “Thou art slave to (the) fate” (787) of death. But “One short sleep past, we wake eternally.” (787) Donne makes it clear that while we must all die, we will live in freedom for eternity. If our death is eternal, life as we know it is short. Death is “Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;” and “For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow.” (786) This is an indication that the devil is near for those who do not believe in Donne’s eternal life. For believers this death or “soul’s delivery” (787) is the truth of life and “death shall be no more, Death, thou shalt die.” (787)
Death is seen as a barricade in “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” by Alan Seegar. “I have a rendezvous with Death…At some disputed barricade.” (821) Seegar cannot provide a clear picture of what will occur to him when he dies. “It may be he shall take my hand, And lead me into his dark land…It may be I shall pass him.” (821) He believes “God knows ‘twere better to be deep” (822) and that he will be judged by the small things that occur in his life, “Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep, Pulse nigh to pulse and breath to breath, Where hushed awakenings are dear” (822) Seegar indicates that death occurs just as seasons change, contemplating his upcoming death with that of spring, “When spring brings back blue days and fair.” (821) And again, “When Spring comes round again this year.” (822) His capitalization of Spring gives importance to the word, maybe comparing it to God’s presence in his life. Only God will define his “disputed barricade.” (821)
Life can be a burden to us. Stevie Smith writes in “Not Waving But Drowning” that life can be overwhelming, if you go too far without any help, no one will be there to hear you when you do need them. “Nobody heard him, the dead man. But he lay moaning:” (825) Smith changes the speaker during the poem several times. After hearing from the speaker about the dead man, “I was much further out than you thought” (825) seems to be coming from the man who is dying. Then it goes back to the speaker, “Poor chap, he always loved larking.” (825) To lark is to be free to do what you want to do without concern for the consequences, an action which clearly kept the dying man separated from friendship and love. “It must have been too cold for him (the dying man) His heart gave way.” (825) But this is not why the man was dying, “Oh, no no no, it was too cold always” (825) for him. “(Still the dead man lay moaning)” (825) as if no one hears him at all. The dying man admits, “I was much too far out all my life, And not waving but drowning.” (825) Our lives are dependant on the friendships and love that we share with others. In our death that is the only fortune that we can take with us.
Death can be a barrier to us, or a new beginning. We must have faith in some things in our life: people, government, religion. If one chooses not to believe he or she may not receive all of what is possible in his or her life. I believe that each of us has been chosen to be of this earth, to receive a body, come to this place to learn and be tested and receive a family. For me it is a great opportunity to prepare for the eternity of life as it exists beyond death. This is what Donne is writing about, our ability to continue for eternity beyond death, making death a doorway, not a “mighty and dreadful” (786) event. Death is an eventuality that all of us “shall not fail (to) rendezvous.” (822) It will happen to us no matter what judgment God has made. But our lives will only be what we make of them. Each of us has the chance to make our life something special or take our chances and be “too far out all (of our) life, And not waving but drowning” (825).