WzDD's HSC Info: 2Unit Related English: John Donne
Oh my blacke Soule! now thou art summoned
Oh my black Soule! Now thou art summoned
By sicknesse, deaths herald, and champion;
Thou art like a pilgrim, which abroad hath done
Treason, and durst not turne to whence hee is fled,
Or like a thiefe, which till deaths doome be read,
Wisheth himselfe deliverd from prison;
But damn'd and hal'd to execution,
Wisheth that sill he might be imprisioned;
Yet grace, if thou repent, thou canst not lacke;
But who shall give thee that grace to beginne?
Oh make thy selfe with holy mourning blacke;
And red with blushing, as thou art with sinne;
Or wash thee in Christ's blood, which hath this might
That being red, it dyes red soules to white.
Champion - In Donne's time, a champion was one who fought
battles for another. IE, sickness both announces the coming of death (herald) and
helps bring it about (champion).
It is reasonable to assume that this poem was written during a time of sickness for Donne, because
it explores the idea of Donne's death with some anguish.
Donne looks into his soul and finds it full of evil ("black"). He compares it first to someone who
has committed a terrible wrong in some country and doesn't dare return. In this comparison,
the country which has suffered this horrible wrong represents God. In his second comparison, his
soul is a thief, who wants to get out of prison until he is sentenced to death, at which time
life in prison looks quite appealing!
Donne builds up the intensity of the poem with circular reasoning - he needs the grace to repent,
but will not have grace until he repents. The ending is a poweful one, partially because Donne
employs the paradox of red blood dying something white to create a strong image in the mind. What
he means here of course is that the reality of Christ dying for to save humans' souls - the
tangible red blood, is enough to make us pure in the eyes of God (white souls).
- This poem is written in sonnet form. See this page for
information on Donne's sonnets. In the octet he presents the problem (his soul is impure and
without repentance he cannot go to heaven), and in the sestet he reflects on this problem (he
needs grace to repent, but cannot achieve grace until he repents)
- Direct address, a very common device in Donne's poetry, is used again in this poem to launch
straight into his powerful argument.
- Metaphor and personification:
- Sickness is personified - it becomes a herald and a champion.
- His soul is also personified - like a pilgrim or a thiefe.
- Circular reasoning creates an anguished tone: Yet grace... to beginne?
- Paradox adds to power of image: being red, it dyes red soules to white
- The comparison of Man's eternal soul to a traitor and a thief would have been quite shocking
in the 17th century.
- The colour imagery that runs through the poem is very intense and memorable.
- delivered from prison - here the "prison" could actually represent Donne's mortal
body, and Donne could be saying that his soul is hoping to get out of his mortal body into
Heaven, until Donne realises that what awaits his soul after death is damnation.
- Circular reasoning - see above.
- Donne's puns are often intentional. Look at deaths doome be read. "Read" sounds
like "red" and could represent the fires of Hell.
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