It takes the power of his poetic imagination for Donne to defeat death, whom he addresses directly in this Holy Sonnet:
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, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.
(From John Donne: The Divine Poems, edited by Helen Gardner, 1952)
Vivian Bearing cannot vanquish death. But when her death comes, she seems to know that she will "wake eternally" in God's grace. Prior to her illness, Vivian could bring her razor-sharp mind to bear on the poem's formal elements--scansion, punctuation, and use of poetic devices. At the end of her life, having learned the meaning of compassion, she is, as Edson puts it, "redeemed." Donne's words now reverberate in her heart. In asking for the "do not resuscitate" code, Vivian expresses a willingness to die, thus depriving Death of its mightiness.
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