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John Donne Holy Sonnets

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John Donne

Death is a very complicated subject that people view very differently in different situations. In John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, he writes about death in Meditations X and XVII. Both meditations use many similar rhetorical devices and appeals, but the tones of the meditations are very disparate. Donne’s different messages in Meditations X and XVII convey tones of defiance and acquiescence towards death, respectively. His apparent change of attitude towards death could be accounted for by his differing life situations while he was writing the meditations: mid-life, and near-death.

“Meditation X”, which Donne wrote in mid-life, has a very defiant and powerful tone. Donne begins the meditation by defying normal views of death, and saying how “death, be not proud” (Donne). In deprecating death, Donne shows how he does not fear something which mortals usually fear. His reckless mockery of death is his appeal to pathos, specifically the human emotion of happiness and determination to live; “Meditation X” is a battle against an inevitable, insidious, and metaphysical force. In “Meditation XVII”, Donne begins instead by deprecating himself, conceding that he “may think [himself] so much better than [he is]” (Donne). This concession conveys a much more acquiescent and passive tone, appealing instead to the human emotions of melancholy and yearning to understand and accept death. Logos is also manipulated by Donne in different ways so that different tones are created. In “Meditation X”, Donne uses logos to show how death is not special or unique, which creates the defiant tone. In “Meditation XVII” Donne uses logos to show how death is an omnipresent, omnipotent entity. His repetition and emphasis of “bells,” which symbolize death, are reminders of how death is everywhere: bells are everywhere, therefore death is everywhere.

The rhetorical devices in each of Donne’s meditations do not differ much, but they create very different tones. Allusion in both meditations to the Bible has different effects on the audience. In “Meditation X” death is referred to as “thou” which alludes to the Bible which constantly uses “thou” when God refers to human beings. This allusion is a further

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