The Funeral : by John Donne || Summary and Analysis

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The Funeral

Whoever comes to shroud me, do not harm
Nor question much
That subtle wreath of hair, which crowns my arm;
The mystery, the sign you must not touch,
For 'tis my outward soul,
Viceroy to that, which then to heaven being gone.
Will leave this to control,
And keep these limbs, her provinces, from dissolution.
For if the sinewy thread my brain lets fall

Through every part,
Can tie those parts, and make me one of all;
These hairs which upward grew, and strength and art
Have from a better brain,
Can better do it, except she meant that
By this should know my pain,
As prisoners then are manacled, when they are condemned to die.

Whate'er she meant by it, bury it with me,
For since I am
Love's martyr, it might breed idolatry,
If into other's hands these relics came,
As 'twas humility
To afford to it all that a soul can do,
So,'tis some bravery,
That since you would save none of me, I bury some of you.

Whoever comes to shroud me, do not harm Nor question much That subtle wreath of hair, which crowns my arm; The mystery, the sign you must not touch, For 'tis my outward soul, Viceroy to that, which then to heaven being gone. Will leave this to control, And keep these limbs, her provinces, from dissolution. For if the sinewy thread my brain lets fall
The Funeral

Summary Analysis

Introduction:

      This poem The Funeral by John Donne is a mixture of light-heartedness and seriousness. The poet has been rejected by his beloved. In sheer desperation and agony, he wishes to sacrifice his life as a martyr on the altar of the god of love. But in the meantime, he has secured a token of love from his beloved. This is a lock of her hair which he has worn round his arm. He thinks that the beloved's hair will preserve his dead body and prevent it from decay and disintegration. It is a kind of charm or rather an embodiment of the outward soul which will give him immortality. The poet ultimately wishes to die as a martyr but fearing that the hair may be worshipped as a relic, he wants it to be buried in the grave along with him. This will be a sort of revenge on the cruel beloved, because some part of her body will be in the grave while she is still alive.

Summary:

      Line. 1 - 8 : Anyone who comes to my dead body to wrap it up in the funeral sheet and lay it in the coffin should not disturb or ask any question about the small wreath of hair wrapped round my arm. This is a mysterious symbol which nobody should touch. It is a sort of outward soul, an agent of the inner soul which has gone to heaven. This outward soul will control and preserve the parts of my body and prevent them from disintegration.

      Line. 9 - 16 : In the physical body, the brain is the controlling mechanism which regulates and guides all parts of the human system. It holds the different parts of the body in unison. The hair of the beloved which grew upwards towards heaven have derived their power from God and have therefore a greater capacity for holding the different parts of the body in an organic unity in a better way. Perhaps the beloved did not think that her hair could preserve my dead body. She regarded her hair as a manacle or fetters to make me suffer as her prisoner. It is a wel-known fact that prisoners condemned to death have to suffer from the pains of heavy Hand-cuffs and iron-bars fixed between the legs.

      Line. 17-24 : Whatever may have been the intention of the beloved, I want that I be buried with the wreath of her hair on my arm. I am a martyr at the altar of the god of love because I am dying in the cause or love. If the hair is not buried with me, it may be regarded as relic and worshipped as such. lt was in a spirit of humility that I compared it to the outward soul; but now I am grown bold and desire that it should be buried with my dead body. Since the beloved has rejected me and indirectly led to my death, I would have the satisfaction of having buried some part of her body in my grave.

Development of Thought:

      The idea of the bracelet of the beloved's hair worn by the poet is the central theme of another, poem called The Relic. There the poet mentions that the hair is a sort of device which will make the souls of the lover and the beloved meet at the grave and spend some time together before the day of judgment. The bracelet of hair will also be regarded as a relic, sought by all men and women in need of love. This relic will be expected to perform miracles and bring success to lovers. In this poem, however, the hair is supposed to save the lover's dead body from disintegration. Secondly, the hair is a sort of a hand-cuff or fetter for causing pain to lover. The poet wants the hair buried with him as a sort of revenge on his beloved for his rejection. So, the bracelet of hair worn by the lover leads to an entirely different situation in this poem.

      The poet wants no one to take away or destroy the bracelet of hair on his arm because it is a kind of charm which will preserve the limbs of the body. Just as the brain controls all the parts of the body, in the same way, her hair will hold together the limbs of his body in an organic whole. Perhaps the beloved never thought of this. She thought that her hair was a kind of charm or manacle to cause suffering to the lover. The poet, however, feels that he must punish the beloved for rejecting his love. He will commit suicide and thereby become love's martyr. He will have the satisfaction of carrying a part of the beloved to the grave. If she could not save him from dying, he could not help burying a part of her body.

Critical Appreciation:

      The poem contains three stanzas of eight lines each. Lines two, five and seven are comparatively short. This is a typical poem which uses the conceit of the hair which first causes some satisfaction and then some justification and anguish. The poet uses the image of the soul and the brain for the function perfomed by the hair. Then he compares the hair to manacles and as such a source of pain and suffering. Finally, the hair may become a relic and a piece of idolatry. All these fanciful images are used by the poet in order to express his anger and frustration. All in all, the poem records a series of moods or attitudes of the rejected lover centred on the subtle wreath of the beloved's hair on his arm.

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