Gender and the Sacred Self in John Donne

By Elizabeth M. A. Hodgson | Go to book overview
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4
Death: “Involved in Mankind”

John Donne's fascination with erotic deaths in the Songs and Sonets is well known: “Song (II),” “The Expiration” and the valediction poems compare lovers' partings to death; “The Legacie,” “The Will,” “The Apparition,” “The Feaver,” “The Funerall,” “The Relique,” “The Dampe,” “The Canonization,” “The Dissolution,” “The Anniversarie,” “Loves exchange” and “The Computation” all imagine the death of the lover or beloved; “The Flea,” and “The Baite” play with the sexual puns in “dying.” But criticism of Donne's Songs and Sonets has not yet come to terms with the relationship between such eroticized dying and Donne's intense, ambivalent, and ambiguous interest in gender and death, especially his appropriation of a relationship with feminine figures in a defense against the finality and isolation of death.1 In “Song (I)” the speaker acknowledges that he “must dye at last” (4–5) but also suggests that “they who one another keepe/Alive, ne'r parted bee” (39–40). In “The Legacie,” the speaker claims that “when I dyed last, I can remember yet, that I/Something did say, and something did bestow” (1, 5–6). In “The Anniversarie” Donne declares that death will only intensify their love:

Alas, as well as other Princes, wee
Must leave at last in death, these eyes, and eares….
But soules where nothing dwells but love
then shall prove
This, or a love increased there above,
When bodies to their graves, soules from their graves remove.

(13–20)

“The Relique”'s lovers also speculate on the possibilities of becoming powerful saints after death, and they imagine their meeting at the grave when the dead rise again. The bonds between the speaker and these women are able to supersede or transcend the solitary quietude of the grave.

-113-

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