Theme of Death in Poems Death, Be Not Proud by John Donne and Dillard’s Transfiguration
Both pieces address death, but in very different ways. Dillard and Donne both agree that death has power in human lives, but one ridicules it while the other praises it. “Transfiguration” presents the idea that death makes us appreciate life more. Whereas, in “Death, Be Not Proud”, Donne ridicules it for having pride in its power over life. Dillard has a more positive viewpoint of death and uses a lot of imagery to represent the potential life.
For example, she uses the image of the candle to represent how it can enlighten one and allow them to appreciate the beauty of the world around them. She is trying to show how life can enlighten us and it continues steadily, unless one loses control of their life and then it can end suddenly, like a candle can quickly burn out. Death also helps illuminate the details one might not notice before. One example of this is when the moth catches on fire and dies which causes the author to suddenly notice the “blue sleeves of my sweater, the green leaves of jewelweed by my side, the ragged red trunk of a pine” which the author had not noticed until this point.
One thing both pieces have in common is that they stress the inevitability of death. Dillard represents the inevitability of death by using imagery of bug corpses that are “shrunken and gray, webbed to the floor with dust” and a description of a moth dying “flame frazzled and fried in a second”. These examples show how life is a race against time and death can come quickly. This need to accomplish as much as possible before death forces people to finish everything as soon as possible. Dillard also uses the phrase “disappearing utterly” as a way to show how life can end suddenly without notice. The inevitability of death sometimes takes over lives and this is what Donne criticizes in his piece. Since Death is personified in this piece, this seems like a criticism of how Death controls us. He discusses how Death thinks it brings men and women a break from life, but he then criticizes Death as “slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men”.
Donne denounces how Death thinks it gives people a break from the tough world and life and he says that “Rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,/ Much pleasure” which is a disapproval of how Death thinks it is all-powerful when in reality, it is not much more complex than sleep. Despite how Death is “Mighty and dreadful”, Donne believes that “Death, thou shalt die” because it takes over lives and it doesn’t deserve that power.
Dillard opposes this idea by saying that Death controlling us is a positive because it leads to people analyzing their lives and thinking if they have really fulfilled their life’s purpose. She asks several questions such as, “Had she mated and laid her eggs,’ and “Had she done her work?” because Dillard wonders if the moth has fulfilled its destiny. This leads to her overall message which is to “go at your life with a broadax” and to pursue things you are passionate about so that you feel fulfilled with your life when death comes.
At the end of the piece, Dillard stresses that one cannot fulfill their destiny without understanding the role of life and death.
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