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John Donne's Holy Sonnet VII

John Donne's early poems focus on secular topics, while his Holy Sonnets enlighten and enliven the beautiful tradition in spiritual writing.

John Donne

Introduction and Text of Holy Sonnet VII

John Donne was a brilliant thinker, as well as a strong devout religious devotee. This poem reveals his knowledge of geography, as well as the concepts of karma and reincarnation.

Donne's speaker continues his theme of exploring all aspects of the status of his soul as it journeys on the earth plane to after-death and back again. The speaker hopes to eventually find himself so blessed that his suffering will have led him to the exalted state of God-union.

Holy Sonnet VII

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dea[r]th, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

Reading of Holy Sonnet VII by David Barnes

Reading of Holy Sonnet VII by Richard Burton

Commentary

Donne's speaker again is lamenting his current physical and mental corruption as he continues to pursue a path that will lead him from darkness to light, and from his current restlessness to eternal peace.

First Quatrain: Addressing Unincarnated Souls

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go;

The speaker is addressing all souls that are currently not incarnated. He calls them "angels" and gives them the command to sound their "trumpets" on all "corners" of the earth. He calls those corners "imagined" for that is exactly the case when referring to a sphere as having corners as in the old expression "the four corners of the globe."

The speaker is also commanding those souls to continue on with their spiritual journey and go ahead and reincarnate, an act that would essentially bring them from "death" back to life. Their bodies are metaphorically "scattered" as they await union of egg and sperm for introduction of each soul.

Second Quatrain: Death's Variety

All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.

The speaker now lists some of the ways that those unincarnated souls may have been removed from their bodies. Some have died through flood, other fire, while still others have succumbed through "war, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies / Despair, law, chance."

The speaker then shockingly refers to those who no longer have need of reincarnating: those "whose eyes" are already "behold[ing] God," those who no longer have the need to "taste death," nor reincarnate on the death again. He makes it clear that his intention is to mention, however briefly, all souls into which God has ever breathed existence.

Third Quatrain: A Change of Heart

But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,

The speaker then shifts his command to the "Lord," having experienced a change of heart, he asks the Lord to let those souls sleep, while the speaker continues to "mourn." The speaker then reasons that if his sins are mightier than all those sins that have brought on the many deaths he has listed, then it is likely too late for him to ask for grace from the Divine Creator, that is, after he eventually joins that multitudinous group of unincarnated souls. The speaker finally begins his conclusion that he will hold for the couplet to complete.

The Couplet: The Strength of Repentance

Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

While still remaining upon the earth, which he calls "this lowly ground," the speaker commands his Divine Beloved to instruct him in repentance. He asserts that the act of repentance is equal to having been pardoned. And he knows that, at least, part of his karma has been wiped away by Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

The speaker is continuing the lament his condition, but he also continues to explore the relationship between God and the souls God has created. The speaker demonstrates awareness of the concepts of karma and reincarnation, which in the Judeo-Christian religion are explained as sowing and reaping (karma) and resurrection (reincarnation).

John Donne

Reading of "Death's Duel"

Questions & Answers

Question: What is the theme of John Donne's Holy Sonnet VII?

Answer: Donne's Holy Sonnet sequence focuses on one theme: exploring the status of his soul as it journeys on the earth plane to after-death and back again. The speaker hopes to attain the exalted state of God-union.

Question: Which literary device is used in Donne's Holy Sonnet VII?

Answer: John Donne's Holy Sonnet VII employs metaphor and allusion.

Question: Who is the speaker of Holy Sonnet 7?

Answer: The speaker of Donne’s Holy Sonnet sequence is a persona created by the poet.

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes

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