‘Your Paris’, by Ted Hughes

Your Paris, I thought, was American.
I wanted to humour you.
When you stepped, in a shatter of exclamations,
Out of the Hotel des Deux Continents
Through frame after frame,
Street after street, of Impressionist paintings,
Under the chestnut shades of Hemingway,
Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein.
I kept my Paris from you. My Paris
Was only just not German. The capital
Of the Occupation and old nightmare.
I read each bullet scar in the Quai stonework
With an eerie familiar feeling,
And stared at the stricken, sunny exposure of pavement
Beneath it. I had rehearsed
Carefully, over and over, just those moments –
Most of my life, it seemed. While you
Called me Aristide Bruant and wanted
To draw les toits, and your ecstasies ricocheted
Off the walls patched and scabbed with posters –
I heard the contrabasso counterpoint
In my dog-nosed pondering analysis
Of café chairs where the SS mannequins
Had performed their tableaux vivants
So recently the coffee was still bitter
As acorns, and the waiters’ eyes
Clogged with dregs of betrayal, reprisal, hatred.
I was not much ravished by the view of the roofs.
My Paris was a post-war utility survivor,
The stink of fear still hanging in the wardrobes,
Collaborateurs barely out of their twenties,
Every other face closed by the Camps
Or the Maquis . I was a ghostwatcher.
My perspectives were veiled by what rose
Like methane from the reopened
Mass grave of Verdun. For you all that
Was the anecdotal aesthetic touch
On Picasso’s portrait
Of Apollinaire , with its proleptic
Marker for the bullet. And wherever
Your eye lit, your immaculate palette,
The thesaurus of your cries,
Touched in its tints and textures. Your lingo
Always like an emergency burn-off
To protect you from spontaneous combustion
Protected you
And your Paris. It was diesel aflame
To the dog in me. It scorched up
Every scent and sensor. And it sealed
The underground, your hide-out,
That chamber, where you still hung waiting
For your torturer
To remember his amusement. Those walls,
Raggy with posters, were your own flayed skin –
Stretched on your stone god.
What walked beside me was a flayed,
One walking wound that the air
Coming against kept in a fever, wincing
To agonies. Your practiced lips
Translated the spasms to what you excused
As your gushy burblings – which I decoded
Into a language, utterly new to me
With conjectural, hopelessly wrong meanings –
You gave me no hint how, at every corner,
My fingers linked in yours, you expected
The final fate-to-face revelation
To grab your whole body. Your Paris
Was a desk in a pension
Where your letters
Waited for him unopened. Was a labyrinth
Where you still hurtled, scattering tears.
Was a dream where you could not
Wake or find the exit or
The minotaur to put a blessed end
To the torment. What searching miles
Did you drag your pain
That were for me plain paving, albeit
Pecked by the odd, stray, historic bullet.
The mere dog in me, happy to protect you
From your agitation and your stone hours,
Like a guide dog, loyal to correct your stumblings,
Yawned and dozed and watched you calm yourself
With your anaesthetic – your drawing, as by touch,
Roofs, a traffic bollard, a bottle, me.

This poem, taken from Hughes’ Birthday Letters (a collection of poems all written about and addressed to his wife Sylvia Plath) is a kaleidoscopic, emotion-heavy snapshot of the couple in Paris, where they apparently went as part of their honeymoon in 1956. When reading this poem, I think it is vital to remember that it is very much coloured by hindsight, and that it was only published in 1998 (35 years after Plath committed suicide in 1963).

Many have accused Hughes in his Birthday Letters of being over-critical and cruel about his (probably manic-depressive) poet wife; he has even been labelled by some as misogynistic – of objectifying Plath. I do not take this view, however, admirer though I am of Plath and her work. In any case, I dislike any discourse that tries to take sides in the much-publicised, complicated relationship of this literary couple, and consider it a pretty fruitless activity for readers or critics to squabble over who was the real victim in their story – all that he said, she said nonsense.

Hughes admits from the outset that this is only a portrait from his own perspective; the “I thought” saves him from sounding too tyrannical, indeed throughout this piece (and throughout the entire collection for that matter) I feel Hughes is showing us how elusive Plath (or any human being) is – how hard it is for him to pin her down.

So, he thought her Paris was “American”. The opening statement introduces the notion of difference – here cultural, educational difference, but also a difference in attitude – that is developed as the poem goes on. Plath steps out, in a “shatter of exclamations” of the “Hotel des Deux Continents”. The name of the hotel of course accentuates the feeling of estrangement – these two people are as different and distanced from each other as two continents. They are also each as heavily laden with history as two continents.

Plath in Paris is portrayed as ecstatically (perhaps manically?) enthralled with everything, even to the point of violence (the “shatter of exclamations”, her ecstasies “ricochet[ing]/ off the walls”) and very much wrapped up in the bohemian Paris of the interwar years – the Paris of the American ex-pat writers that Hughes lists (“Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Henry Miller…” etc.) She seems to very purposefully ignore the recent plight of Paris during the Second World War and the Occupation, from which in 1956 the city would still have been recovering. Is she afraid of something? Hughes is certainly afraid of ‘bursting her bubble’, as it were, for he states quite plainly “I kept my Paris from you”. The impression I import here is that Hughes was rather walking on eggshells around the explosive Plath – afraid to upset her.

But what was Hughes’ own Paris like? It was “only just not German”, he says. Hughes depicts himself as having been keenly aware of the recent war and all that had gone on in Paris – the reality of it was too present for him to ignore and feel nostalgic for the interwar jazz age. For Hughes, this was the city of “Occupation and old nightmare”, and the bullet scars in the Quai stonework gave him an “eerie familiar feeling”. I wonder whether Hughes (with the dye of hindsight inevitably colouring his memory) is relating to the suffering of Paris here – to the idea of Occupation. Perhaps he feels a connection to this city since the ghost of Plath has ‘occupied’ him – possessed him even – as is evident from this collection of more than eighty poems addressed to her over thirty years after her death.

Hughes is not interested in Plath’s Paris: “I was not much ravished by the view of the roofs./ My Paris was a post-war utility survivor,/ The stink of fear still hanging in the wardrobes.” He is full of “the Camps”, “the Maquis” and the “Mass grave of Verdun”, but for Plath (he remembers) all that was just “the anecdotal aesthetic touch/ On Picasso’s portrait/ Of Apollinaire”. It is made clear that Plath is hiding from something – from her own reaction to this history of violence, and perhaps from the notion of shame too. The shame of the collaborateurs perhaps drew too keen a comparison to Plath’s own ‘occupation’ by the memory of her father and the wound of his death (his towering ghost was ever-present in her poetry, most memorably in the masterfully controlled detonation that was Daddy but was never, it would seem, entirely exorcised).

This is certainly suggested by Hughes, who describes her as using her “lingo” as “an emergency burn-off/ To protect you from spontaneous combustion/ Protected you/ And your Paris.” She is hiding from the violence of recent history, hiding from her “torturer” (her father/ her illness) waiting for him to “remember his amusement”. Hughes describes her father as a “stone god” (reminding us of Plath’s poem The Colossus), which really creates a sense of their helplessness – both of them – faced with the reality which was that Plath had been picked on by fate – by the Gods –  and by a mental illness that would eventually kill her.  Hughes describes Plath as a “walking wound that the air/ Coming against kept in a fever, wincing/ To agonies”. The word “wincing” is extremely important here, I think. With this word, Hughes is acknowledging Plath’s suffering but he is also allowing himself to express his anger and frustration at her.

A language barrier between the two poets is evoked with Plath’s “gushy burblings” having to be “decoded into a language, utterly new to me” and which he admits he interpreted with “hopelessly wrong meanings”. His fingers are “linked in [hers]” yet she is “hurtl[ing]” through a “labyrinth… scattering tears”, locked in a nightmare from which she could not wake, and “The Minotaur” (again, her father/her illness?) could not put “a blessed end/ To the torment”. This mention of a blessed end to the torment is even more devastating with the knowledge of how Plath’s suffering would eventually finish.

I will finally mention the end of the poem, and this touching image of Plath calming herself down by drawing, probably in the hotel room. Hughes paints himself as a blindly loyal partner, with many references to himself as dog-like throughout the piece – “happy to protect you”, and “Like a guide dog” – he “Yawned and dozed and watched [her] calm [her]self” by drawing, “as by touch, Roofs, a traffic bollard, a bottle, me”. I think this end line is just perfect, and very clever. It is as though with hindsight Hughes feels that he was in some way ensnared by Plath – that he became her victim; the way he makes her turn on him at the end – suddenly, the unexpected “me” – is very sinister, eerily foreboding and powerful.

Ted Hughes with Sylvia Plath

Ted Hughes with Sylvia Plath

‘Nothing gold can stay’ by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.

This doesn’t need much explaining or commentary, I think; it is a perfectly contained poem, with economical, loaded language and images. It voices (with a little more flair and melancholy beauty) the adage that all good things must come to an end.

This blog, though indisputably good, is however not coming to an end, but rather getting going again.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost

‘Morning in the burned house’ by Margaret Atwood

In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.

The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.

Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,

their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,

every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,

the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.

I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.

I can’t see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything

in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,

including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,

bare child’s feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts

and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.

This poem fascinates me with its treatment of subject-matter that Atwood often visits in her poetry: grief and loss of innocence.

I feel that this piece is exploring the dizzying, almost out-of-body sensation that grief can inject us with. For me, the grief in this poem can and should be interpreted according to the reader. There seems to be room in this poem for grief for the self (that is to say, grief for lost innocence – the child that one once was) or grief for a loved one (particularly a for parent, I think). Of course, these two sorts of grief are in a sense inseparable, and can certainly intertwine.

The opening of this poem is immediately intriguing: “In the burned house I am eating breakfast./ You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast”. I find these lines extremely clever, extremely telling. From the very outset of the piece, the poet is admitting to us that she is a liar, or that she is in denial of her reality. There is something so appealingly confiding, almost intimate in that “You understand”. Atwood seems to be saying: ‘you are like me; you are in denial, too’.  The image of the burned house seems to me to be symbolic of the ruins of a conventional family life, childhood, innocence and stability. The burned house is such a violent image, and it leads me to imagine a brutal loss of innocence via some kind of trauma, or else the sudden loss of a parent or close family member.

The words, “yet here I am” are so incredibly sad. For me, this line evokes the way in which human nature clings to its own innocence, and to love, with all its might. We cannot help ourselves. Even though the house has burned down, the speaker in the poem attempts to retrieve some remnants of normality and stability; here she is, “eating [her non-existent] breakfast”. Breakfast is a very cleverly chosen meal here – it smacks of  all that one connects with a healthy, disciplined, ‘correct’ lifestyle, as one’s sensible mother and grandmother would encourage. Even after the fire – even her home and all the furniture of stability has been destroyed – the speaker seeks normality; safety is seemingly being sought in the memory of what was once good.

As the poem continues, the speaker wonders where her family has gone – her mother and father, her brother and sister. She speculates hopefully about this,  surely inspired by her former life in happy innocence: “Off along the shore,/ perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers”. Although it is clearly not the case as she sits among the ruins of the burned house, the speaker imagines that her family has simply gone for a walk along the beach, and that they will be back soon. The image of the clothes on the hangers, and the dishes piled up by the sink to be washed up, is highly evocative of a house after its occupant has died without warning; nothing in the house was prepared for the sudden departure, and everything is waiting for its owner to return, as thought they had just stepped out for a short walk.

The poet describes the day as “bright and songless”. For me, these words really help to depict the sense of stark grief that haunts the poem – the desolation of absence under the spotlight of a clear morning. The line, “In the east a bank of cloud/ rises up silently like dark bread” again shows the speaker’s need for the language of her former life to describe her desolate reality; in the east, where the the sun should be rising, heralding a new day, there is a bank of cloud rising “like dark bread”. The image of bread rising is clearly inspired by traditional domestic life and possibly the kind of activity that a child might share with her mother in an idyllic childhood – baking bread.

“I can’t see my own arms and legs/ or know if this is a trap or blessing” writes Atwood. I feel that here the idea of a physical loss of innocence is strongly evoked, since the speaker refers to her own body. She is telling us that she has now become estranged or detached from her body, and that she doesn’t understand if this situation is a “trap or blessing”. There is clear confusion here.

The poet can see nothing of herself: “including my own body,/ including the body I had then,/ including the body I have now/ as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy”. The all-purging fire has apparently consumed her entire body. Did she die in the fire, too? Is she a ghost? She seems unsure. Here the speaker acknowledges how radical the change that her loss has had on her – it is a physical loss: she speaks about the body she had before the loss, and the body she had after the loss.

In the final two stanzas Atwood continues with her evocation of physical loss, and the ambiguity about whether or not she has survived the fire continues to linger. We are delivered the image of her “bare child’s feet on the scorched floorboards/ (I can almost see)/ in my burning clothes”. Here we are clearly being delivered the sense that the speaker remains innocent before the loss she has suffered (she has “bare child’s feet” that stand innocently upon the scorched floorboards). Does she remain innocent because she has been burned – destroyed – by the fire? Again, we may ask, is she a ghost? I love the final image of that “grubby yellow T-shirt/ holding my cindery, non-existent,/ radiant flesh. Incandescent.” What an outstanding ending to the poem. I detect some sense of triumph on the part of the speaker (who had appeared before as the ‘victim’). She is “non-existent” – she has been consumed by the fire that has burned the house down, but she is “Incandescent” – rising above the destruction, as it were. She is in fact radiant in her preserved innocence that has apparently been distilled by the murderous flames that burned the house down.

burned_house[1]

‘Who Has Seen The Wind?’ by Christina Rossetti

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

I love the singing simplicity of this piece. Rossetti employs her usual chanting, prayer-like tone to express the wonder she feels for the unseen forces of this world.

windy2

‘Especially when the October wind,’ by Dylan Thomas

Especially when the October wind
With frosty fingers punishes my hair,
Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire
And cast a shadow crab upon the land,
By the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,
Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,
My busy heart who shudders as she talks
Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark
On the horizon walking like the trees
The wordy shapes of women, and the rows
Of the star-gestured children in the park.
Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,
Some of the oaken voices, from the roots
Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,
Some let me make you of the water’s speeches.

Behind a pot of ferns the wagging clock
Tells me the hour’s word, the neural meaning
Flies on the shafted disk, declaims the morning
And tells the windy weather in the cock.
Some let me make you of the meadow’s signs;
The signal grass that tells me all I know
Breaks with the wormy winter through the eye.
Some let me tell you of the raven’s sins.

Especially when the October wind
(Some let me make you of autumnal spells,
The spider-tongued, and the loud hill of Wales)
With fists of turnips punishes the land,
Some let me make you of the heartless words.
The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry
Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury.
By the sea’s side hear the dark-vowelled birds.

I’d wanted to squeeze this one in while we were still in the month of October, but I didn’t quite make it in time! Nevermind; this is my belated final October post.

Dylan Thomas is one of those rare and extraordinary poets whose music can entrance and satisfy the reader even before understanding the significance of his words. That was certainly the case for me with this particular poem, whose rhythm and texture of sound were what initially mesmerised me; I had to read it through several times before really getting to grips with its full import (for me). It is a complex piece, and I find it difficult, but personally it speaks to me about poetry, and the process of writing it.

In the first verse, a fiercely evocative image of autumn is delivered; the wind “punishes” the speaker’s hair with “frosty fingers”, and he “walk[s] on fire”. I love this idea of the poet walking on fire (it brings to mind the fiery colours of the autumn leaves creating a carpet underfoot and paints a gorgeous contrast with the “frosty fingers” of the wind). I think that through this opening the poet is telling us that especially when life is hard (“Especially when the October wind” is cruel and “punishes” his vanity) he finds the greatest strength and inspiration; he walks “on fire”.

Thomas tells us that he hears the “raven cough in winter sticks”. I adore this description of the autumnal trees (that are shedding their leaves) as winter sticks. It is such a brutal, honest image. The speaker hears the raven’s “cough”. A cough is just an involuntary noise (the previous line mentions the “noise” of birds), but the sound greatly affects the poet’s “busy heart”. “As she talks” (notice it is the only the poet who can understand the language of the raven) his heart “shudders” and “Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.” The final line of this first stanza is such a exquisite description of the poetic process. The raven, a bird traditionally associated with sinister omens or happenings, inspires the poet – he “drains her words”, and they influence his own.

As we move into the second stanza, Dylan Thomas pursues his theme of language. As well as “shed[ing]…words” from the heart – as well as language/ poetry being a natural form of release for him – it now becomes apparent that language is also a kind of prison: “Shut, too, in a tower of words”. This is the eternal paradox of language: it is the great liberator, but also a great suppressor; there is so much it can say, yet so much it is unable to express. The barrier of language, or his devotion to poetry, isolates him.

Next, the speaker marks the “the wordy shapes of women”on the horizon, and the rows of “star-gestured children”. Dylan Thomas’ love-life, like that of many artists, was notoriously stormy and complicated. To me, these lines evoke the poet’s paradoxical fear and longing for a ‘normal’ romantic and family life. The women mentioned in this poem are mythical (they walk “like the trees”) and are constructed by language only (they are “wordy”). It seems that the poet is aware that they are constructs of his own mind and language.

“Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches”. I love this line, and something about it for me is so typically Dylan Thomas. I love the way it is repeated and reformulated throughout the remainder of the poem. I cannot decide whether he the “you” in this phrase is poetry or a woman. I suppose that it could be both, but I think that my initial instinct was that he is talking about poetry.

So, sometimes it is the “oaken voices” of the trees that inspire him to write; sometimes it is the “water’s speeches” that give him fuel for poetry. Nature gives him tools for creating his art. We can understand here that the speaker experiences the world intensely through language: even the water makes “speeches”.

The “wagging clock” is an unforgettable image. It evokes the persistence of time’s progress and that ever-present ticking. And even time is experienced through language, for the poet: the clock “tells me the hour’s word”, “declaims the morning” and “tells the windy weather in the cock”. It is the narrator of his life, even dictating the weather.

“Some let me tell you of the raven’s sins./ Especially when the October wind… With fists of turnips punishes the land”. I love how Thomas revisits the first line of the poem as we approach its close. The description of the turnips as “fists” is violent and evokes hard times, which Thomas would have known in  wartime Wales. I think it is interesting that the poet now situates himself specifically in “Wales”. He does not often make his poems so obviously personal.

As we come to very end of the piece, Thomas returns to the raven, and her “sins”: “The heart is drained that, spelling in the scurry/ Of chemic blood, warned of the coming fury./By the sea’s side hear the dark-vowelled birds.” What is he telling us, here? For me, I feel that there is something very mystical about these lines (the word “spelling” at once evokes magic, but also has the obvious association with writing). It think that Thomas is recognising the sometimes unfathomably mysterious nature of the poetic process. The raven’s heart is drained, for the poet has taken its ink. The “chemic” blood is transformative, alchemizing his poetry.

Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas

‘Autumn’ by Rainer Maria Rilke

The leaves are falling, falling as from far,
As if far gardens in the skies were dying;
They fall, and never seem to be denying.

And in the night the earth, a heavy ball,
Into a starless solitude must fall.
We all are falling.

My own hand no less
Than all things else; behold, it is in all.
Yet there is One who, utter gentleness,

Holds all this falling in
His hands to bless.

Below is the original German text for those of you who can understand it, and for those of you (like me) who can’t, but who would like to read it to catch a glimmer of Rilke’s original music.

Herbst


Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,
als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;
sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere
Erde
aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.
Wir allen fallen.

Diese Hand da fällt.
Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.
Und doch ist einer, welcher dieses 

Fallen
undendlich sanft
in seinen Händen hält.

This poem is full of such beautiful, melancholic and autumnal images. I particularly love the line in the first verse, “As if far gardens in the skies were dying”. This image strikes me as so uniquely brilliant, and makes me eager to read more of Rilke’s work.

Autumn, uses the notion of “falling” throughout, mirroring, of course, the falling of the leaves and the dying of the year. The season of Autumn is often attached to a state or tone of melancholy, as it inevitably reminds us of the the seasons of our own lives winding down. This notion is expressed in a line so memorable here that I am sure I will be unable to forget it: “And in the night the earth, a heavy ball,/ Into a starless solitude must fall.” The idea of the earth being a heavy ball promotes the feeling that none of us are immune to the melancholy of the passing of time, and the “starless solitude” is just a perfect coupling to create a vision of the bleakness of the state of mind being described.

In his final lines, Rilke introduces hope to the poem – religious hope: “Yet there is One who… holds all this falling in his hands to bless.”

Rainer_Maria_Rilke,_1900

 

‘Death, be not proud’ by John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die. 

This poem, Divine Meditation 10 is one of Donne’s best-loved and most-quoted sonnets. The message of the piece is simple enough – a notion surely common to all religions (at least, to the Judeo-Christian faiths): “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians, verses 15-26). The poet personifies Death as he addresses it directly, and he does so with such confident, triumphant defiance that one cannot fail to be seduced.

Donne warns Death against pride, and affirms that he is not “Mighty and dreadful”, as he has been so perceived throughout history. “For”, explains the poet, those who he believes he “overthrow[s]/ Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me”. This kind of bravure on the part of a poet is irresistible.

The poet goes on to express the idea that Death’s role is simply the kindness to deliver us from this earthly plane and the pain of human suffering: “Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery”. Rather than depicting the terrifying traditional image of Death as the ‘reaper’, choosing his ‘victims’, Donne suggests that Death itself is in fact the ‘victim’, and by no means at the top of any hierarchy; Death is “slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men”. It is “fate” (God’s will?), “chance”, or else human actions and decisions that conjure Death. Death decides nothing.

Donne also delivers the idea that Death is inferior to drugs (“poppy or charms”) in terms of giving us rest and sleep, for on the other side of Death we “wake eternally”. “Why swell’st thou then?” I love this direct, exultant question, and the delicious use of “swell’st”.

“One short sleep past, we wake eternally/ And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” So ends the poem, and in the final analysis (the poem is entitled  Divine Meditation 10, so we might have guessed from the start) the sonnet seems to have a very religious tint to it – in that great hope of eternal life.

However, the hope in this poem, though evidently religious, can also, I think, encompass hope in human endeavour and discovery. It is particularly the line, “And dost with… sickness dwell,/ And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well” that brings this idea to me. The notion of man’s capacity to create remedies for pain and sickness is present here. I feel like there is a sort of sub-plot to this sonnet, where Donne is foreseeing that man will make great discoveries and advances in medicine, and that indeed in many instances it will certainly be the case that “Death, thou shalt die”.

barley-birds-dawn-field-nature-Favim.com-324511

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