The poets I will be talking about in this assignment are going to be John Donne, Dylan Thomas, James Shirley and Francis Beaumont. These are the poets that wrote on death and I will be comparing the differences and similarities of their poems, and what they wrote about death.
John Donne was born in 1572 in London to wealthy parents. He was raised as a Roman Catholic, which was unusual because England was almost totally Protestant at the time. He was educated at Oxford, Cambridge, and Lincoln’s Inn, where he studied law. The clergyman John Donne was one of the most gifted poets in English literature. He was converted to the Church of England and he became an Anglican clergyman in 1615. He died in 1631 at the age of 59. His transformation from Catholicism had a great effect on his life and influenced his poetry.
Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales, on October 27th 1914. He died in New York City on November 9th 1953, and was buried at Laugharne; the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was only 39 years old when he died.
James Shirley was born in 1596 and was an English dramatist, born in London. As an Anglican, he was converted to Roman Catholicism and abandoned what might have been a career in the church for school teaching at St. Albans Grammar School, in Hertfordshire. He died in 1666 at the age of 70.
Francis Beaumont Leicestershire, in 1584. Francis Beaumont died suddenly of a fever in 1616 at the age of only 32 and was mourned by many. Francis Beaumont was buried in Westminster Abbey.
These are the backgrounds of the poets I am going to be talking about; as you are able to see a few of them also wrote plays and books. I am going to see what they all think of death in their poems and the similarities between all of them and the differences.
John Donne’s poem, called DEATH. The basic outline is John Donne saying death I am not afraid of you because you cannot kill me, I will reincarnate so I will always live. In the first line he is saying death do not be proud of what you are doing, everyone thinks you are mighty and dreadful but I know you are not.
“Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so:”
Then he explains death you cannot kill me I am not afraid of you, if you kill me I will come back.
“Die not, poor death; nor yet canst thou kill me.”
He then says all the different ways of dieing; he mentions poison, war, if you are sick and also a stroke. He says the ways you can die are if you have poison injected in you, or if you die in war. He says poppies and charms have make us have a more comfortable death and he says poison, being killed in a war, they are all better than having a stroke.
“And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke.”
He also includes things like we are the slaves of fate; if we are going to die next week we cannot do anything about it. It may also be chance that you die, like if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Thou’rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,”
This man John Donne was religious and that’s why he believes in reincarnation, it is written in old English because that was how they used to write back in the 16th and 17th centuries, it is also a sonnet (14 lines equals a sonnet). John Donne is personifying death, he is talking to death and saying you cannot hurt me.
Dylan Thomas’s poem, AND DEATH SHALL HAVE NO DOMINION means death shall have no power. Thomas has some same views as John Donne, like they both believe in some form of reincarnation. The basic outline of the poem is who ever you are, what ever you are, you have no protection against death.
He says in his first stanza that death shall have no power, innocent people are killed by death, and death in Thomas’s words is by a ghost.
“With the man in the wind and the west moon;”
He is saying that it is a ghost or a spirit , maybe coming back for revenge on some on. Then it says,
“When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,”
This sort of indicates the some person has killed this man, and maybe a dog has come and taken the clean bones.
He then mentions some of the same things as Donne when he says,
“Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;”
So Thomas is saying people come back again but as ghosts and sprits, where as Donne says they come back as humans, so there is some sort of reincarnate involved in both poems.
The next verse starts and ends of the same as all the other verses by saying,
“And death shall have no dominion.”
He is saying this to enforce death shall have no power.
It also says in his poem that the people in the sea, who have died may be lucky one day and be hauled up back to life, back to civilisation and not stuff in the sea for the rest of their lives.
“Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;”
Dylan Thomas was not religious it does not seem to be obvious that he was from the poem, but he instead was a womaniser.
The next poem I am going to be analysing is DEATH THE LEVELLER by James Shirley. The basic outline of this poem is if you are going to die you die. There is nothing to help you or stop it happening. In the first verse he says there is no armour against fate,
“There is no armour against fate;”
There is nothing to protect you from death not even the best and strongest armour in the world, or the best protection in the world, death can still get you. Then he writes,
“Death lay his icy hands on kings:
Sceptre and crown”
This means death also kills important people of the country all well as the low lives and peasants. He also means whatever possessions you have they will also make no difference on how or when you die.
In the next stanza he says some men with swords cut and gather the corn in the fields and plant fresh honours of victory gained where they have killed other soldiers in battle. He also mentions in the second stanza that people start to believe in fate after a while.
“Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill:”
“They stoop to fate,”
In the rest of the poem he says you should boast no more with your mighty deeds where upon the alter the victims of the war and the victors all bleed together,
“Then boast no more your mighty deeds!
Upon death’s purple alter now”
Then he says,
“Your heads must come
To the cold tomb:”
By this he means by this that they are going to be beheaded in the cold tomb (in the death chamber).
The final poet I am going to be analysing is Francis Beaumont and his poem ON THE TOMBS IN WESTMINSTER ABBEY. He is saying in this poem the people who have died and now are buried in Westminster abbey were once the most famous and important people of the world, now they are just bones.
“What a change of flesh is here”
He means here that if you look at someone living at this present moment in time and you look at these dead people in the Abbey you can see the change of flesh because their bodies have rotted over time. In the next few lines he say,
“Think how many royal bones
Sleep within this heap of stones:”
He is saying here that, think of how many rich and famous people are buried here, in Westminster Abbey. Only the royals and other important people of history are and can be buried here, manly just the kings and queens. He follows this by saying
“Who now want strength to stir their hands:”
He says now that these royals and people of great importance, who wants to go and shake their hands now when they are dead, but when they were alive everyone would have dreamed of meeting them, the king or queen.
He also says in this poem that the richest and most royal people buried here in the world, they were treated like gods when they were alive but when they died they were like us ordinary men.
“Though gods they were, as man they died.”
Francis Beaumont wrote this poem, and when he died he was also buried in Westminster Abbey. That may have been his life long dream, to work hard and be good enough to be buried there, in Westminster Abbey.
There are similarities between John Donne, James Shirley and Francis Beaumont, because they all talk about fate somewhere in their poem.
“Thou’rt slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,” (John Donne),
“There is no armour against fate;” (James Shirley),
“Buried in dust, once died by fate.” (Francis Beaumont).
Dylan Thomas and James Shirley also have some same views, whoever you are whatever you are you are going to die; you have no protection against it.
The differences are they are betraying death in different and similar ways, but the differences are Donne talks to death and say death you cannot get me I will come back and you will have to kill me again. Thomas also believes in reincarnation like Donne. Shirley’s basic view were when you die you die you have to be ready for it whenever. Finally Beaumont was talking of Westminster Abbey where the royals end up and he says no matter whom you are in life we all die, men, as gods you may live but you die like men.