This Is My Play's Last Scene || Summary and Analysis Analysis

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This Is My Play's Last Scene

This is my play's last scene, here heavens appoint
My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race
Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace,
My span's last inch, my minute's last point,
And gluttonous death, will instantly unjoint
My body, and soul, andI shall sleep a space,
But my'ever-waking part shall see that face,
Whose fear already shakes my every joint:

Then, as my soul, to heaven her first seat, takes flight,
And earth-born body, in the earth shall dwell,
So, fall my sins, that all may have their right,
To where they are bred, and would press me, to hell,
Impute me righteous, thus purged of evil,
For thus I leave the world, the flesh, and devil.

This is my play's last scene, here heavens appoint My pilgrimage's last mile; and my race Idly, yet quickly run, hath this last pace, My span's last inch, my minute's last point, And gluttonous death, will instantly unjoint My body, and soul, andI shall sleep a space, But my'ever-waking part shall see that face, Whose fear already shakes my every joint:
This Is My Play's Last Scene

Summary and Analysis

Introduction:

      This is one of the sonnets included under the title - Holy Sonnets: Divine Meditations. In all these sonnets, the poet is dominated by the fear of death, the consciousness of his sin, the anxiety and uncertainty of his future in view of the imminent damnation. In spite of all these uncertainties, there is in this poem a lurking yearning for the life of the flesh which is indicated by the words - my race idly, yet quickly run. There is an apparent mixture of contradictory feelings in the poet as he lies on his death-bed. As he reflects on the sins of the flesh - for which he is not repentant here - he fears eternal damnation and yet somehow he wants to be saved from punishment. The logic of the last four lines of the poem is rather unconvincing.

Summary:

      Line. 1-8 : This is the last scene of the drama of my life. According to my destiny, I have reached the last mile of my journey. My life has been like a running race; I have run the race quickly but without any purpose or achievement. This is my last step, the last wish and the last minute. At the end of my life, Death like a glutton will immediately separate my body from my soul. My body will then sleep for ever and my soul will be face to face with God. But the fear of punishment for my sins gives me a shiver and a fright.

      Line. 9-14 : As my soul returns to heaven to take its original seat, the earth-born body shall remain in the grave. My sins of the flesh belong to the earth and would push me to hell. (So let my body go to hell for its sins, but let the soul remain in heaven). God should regard my soul as pure, but the flesh which committed sins should remain in the world and with the Devil. (The soul has been freed from the body and consequently from sin. As such, God should not punish my soul but bless it once again.)

Development of Thought:

      John Donne compares his life to a drama. The last few days of his life are like the last scene of the play. The metaphor of the world as a stage is found in Shakespeare's As You Like It. The poet refers to the last scene. The word, last is repeated in the first four lines. Now that the poet is on his death-bed and there is no hope of his survival, he expresses his fear of damnation. The race of his life is now coming to an end. At the finishing point stands Death like a glutton waiting to devour his body. Just as the poet has been a glutton at the feast of life - he has enjoyed life to the finger-tips and his regret at the race 'quickly run is evident - in the same way he thinks of Death as a gluttonous beast waiting to devour his prey and this gives him the jitters. As his body is destroyed by death, his soul shall go to Heaven from which it first came. It will then stand face to face with God on the Day of Judgement. The idea of facing God, in view of the magnitude of his sins makes him feel terribly restless and tense. As he has sinned greatly in life, he is expecting nothing but hell.

The Faulty Logic:

      In order to escape the consequences of his sinful life, the poet gives reasons for exemption from punishment in hell. The sins of human beings arise out of flesh. The flesh commits sins and therefore only the body should be punished and sent to Hell. His soul which will be released from the prison of the flesh, should not be punished for the sins of the flesh. There is a flaw in this argument. The flesh cannot sin of its own accord. The idea of sin first arises in the mind; then the mind gives the direction to the body-parts which commit the sin. Moreover, there is the conscience in man which can guide him properly. Therefore, the poet's contention that only the body sins while the soul which remains in and guides the body is free from sin cannot be accepted. Actions are due to thoughts and sinful thoughts lead to sinful acts. At any rate, the sophistry of the poet can have no weight with God who is the true Judge. In other holy sonnets, the poet has given expression to his' feelings of regret and repentance and sincerely sought God's grace for his acts of commission and omission. In this sonnet, however, like a clever advocate, he argues that the flesh is the originator of all sins and when the flesh is buried in the grave, all the sins should be buried along with it. The soul will, however, separate from the body and shall be free from sin. In this connection, Mario Praz says: "Donne was like a lawyer choosing the fittest argument for the case in hand, not a searcher after a universally valid truth". Donne's special pleading - for he knows the flaw in his argument - is that he should be regarded as innocent, and 'righteous' and this cannot be but a vain hope.

Critical Appreciation:

      The metaphors are here in plenty: life is a drama; life is a race; Death is a gluttonous violent and omnivorous beast. The word last has been repeated five times, showing thereby the poet's desire for survival. The first eight lines reflect the poet's sombre and reflective mood. The last six lines end on a note of hope because the poet feels that God will regard him as innocent and pure. The argument that the soul belongs to heaven and must therefore return to the same place, and that the body is produced in the world and is buried in the earth does not carry conviction. Whatever be the state of the poet's mind, there is no doubt that the poet's metaphysical technique is revealed in this poem.

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