John Donne’s poem, “Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness” is a religious poem where the speaker is on his death bed. The speaker believes that as the sun rises and sets, death and resurrection are linked together; and therefore, one should not be scared of dying. The speaker of the poem believes that since he has spent his life preaching the word of God, not only will God be there to welcome him when he dies, but the world will be left a better place. The speaker believes that he will enjoy the afterlife more because of his actions and preaching of God’s word on Earth. God will reward him in Heaven and therefore, he looks forward to dying because he believes that Heaven will be better than what his life was on earth. The use of a map as a metaphysical conceit demonstrates in this poem as a metaphor to describe the speaker’s insight on death. The map is used to represent the speaker’s body as he is on his death bed. The map describes the speaker’s views of death as being connected with life, as oppose to being a separated and painful event. The speaker seems to be at ease with dying, and describes it almost as a joyous event; the rhyme scheme reflects how the speaker believes that he will enjoy the afterlife more than his current life. In the fourth strophe, Donne two main elements of the poem: the metaphysical conceit of a map as the speaker’s body, and the religious genre in which the poem is written. The elements of symbolism, rhyme scheme, and connection of the metaphysical conceit with a religious genre found within John Donne’s “Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness” all contribute in a strong way to the description and explanation of the metaphysical conceit found within the poem.

The sun is used as a symbol of the speaker’s life – the rising in the east is birth and the setting in the west is his death. In the poem, Donne is describing the fact that death and resurrection are like the connection of the east and west on a map. The west and east hemispheres are connected, just as the sun rises and sets, just as the speaker lives and will die. The poem, “Hymn to God My God, in my Sickness” suggests that maybe death will not be as bad as it seems, because one is resurrected after: “What shall my West hurt me? As West and East / In all flat maps (and I am one) are one, / So death doth touch the resurrection.” (13-15). Just as a map, the speaker can see where he is going or headed – into the west (his death). “. . . I see my West” (11). The metaphysical conceit, combined with the symbolism of the sun are both used to describe the speaker’s content with dying.

There is a connection between the rhyme scheme in this poem and the speaker’s attitudes on life versus death. The rhyme scheme suggests that the speaker is either confused or unhappy with life on earth, but will be happier and more stable through in his life in Heaven. In the first three strophes of the poem, the speaker is conveying events which seem to happen before he is dead; and the last three strophes are speaking about his future, or when he is dead and re-united with God. The rhyme scheme pattern in the first three strophes does not follow the same pattern as the last three strophes. In strophes one, two and three, the rhyme scheme pattern is as follows: ABCBB; DEDFE; FGHGG. Meanwhile in strophes four, five and six, the pattern is as follows: IJIJJ; KLKLL; MNMNN. In the last three strophes (strophes four, five and six) the rhyme scheme pattern evens out and becomes very predictable. Meanwhile, the first three strophes (strophes one, two, three) display something unsettling and unpredictable about the rhyme scheme, as if Donne could not decide if he wanted to follow a pattern or not. This can be interpreted as the character’s views on life and resurrection. The first three strophes are representative of his life on earth, which is uncertain, unstable and temporary (just as the rhyme scheme). There is a possibility of a pattern through different pronunciations of the rhyming words, but in general, the rhyme scheme pattern is temporary and changes by each strophe. Mean while, the last three strophes are set in a predictable pattern rhyme scheme. This symbolizes that when the character leaves this earth and is resurrected, his work and life will make much more sense than it ever would on Earth. When the speaker expires and is resurrected by his Father in Heaven, he will be rewarded and be happier because he has spent his life preaching the word of God: “And, as to others; souls I preached thy word,” (28).

Donne uses the fourth strophe to connect the metaphysical conceit of the poem to the religious genre by discussing where the speaker shall be placed after he has been resurrected. The speaker will be placed somewhere in the sky – just as the sun is – when he is resurrected. In strophe four, Donne lists off places of where the speaker’s soul may rest – all of which are in the western hemisphere of the world.” Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are / The Eastern riches? / Is Jerusalem? Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar” (16-18). The places are symbolic of the speaker’s faith and hopes because the he wishes to be placed in a Holy land when he is resurrected. “. . . . Jerusalem? Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar” (16) are all places which are referenced from the Bible. They are the places which were re-populated by Japhet after the great flood. Just as Japhet spread the word of God to all of these re-populated places after the great flood; as did the speaker spread the word of God in his life on earth. The imagery of the speaker’s soul being placed in the sky over a particular location when he is resurrected also connects the religious genre with the symbolism of the sun being the speaker’s life span (which is discussed earlier in this essay). Not only does Donne connect the religious genre with the metaphysical conceit, but he also finds a way to connect the element of symbolism to the rest of poem.

John Donne uses not only the use of the sun as a means of symbolism in his poem “Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness”; yet Donne uses the metaphysical conceit of a map to describe the speaker’s attitude of dying. Just as a map is connected from east to west, thus death and resurrection are connected. The rhyme scheme suggests that the character is much happier about the fact that death is near because he knows that he will be happier and less confused when he is in his Father’s arms and care. Donne connects the religious genre of the poem with the metaphysical conceit of a map in the four strophes the naming of religious places which the speaker would like his soul to be placed when he is resurrected. Donne effectively uses a metaphysical conceit of a map to clearly describe the character’s joyous attitudes of death.

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Tahira Nawaz
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