Death be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so ”
Often have I been moved to quiet reverence by the hopeful harmony of this sonnet. In moments when dread overtakes me and I feel my center contending with principalities and powers, I am sustained by Donne’s fearless renunciation of Death. When he speaks, in another place, of death as “lossful gain,” he speaks from faith and for faith; and to some ears, Donne may perhaps also speak prior to faith, and even more deeply, to an absence of faith. “Mighty and dreadful” abides in its legacy and such an abiding endures like fractals in a burdened life. Under the weight of my grief I, too, can cry “’Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone.” This is precisely how I am disclosed to myself when death, loss, grief drain from me the substance of spirit that once, and will again, embolden me. Yet not now. Not here. Not in the presence of a grief so abiding and lasting and enfolding selves and families and a whole nation. Meditation 17 instructs, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” No man is an island, Donne says, yet at times each is a nation, containing undiffused the nation’s grief. A heart’s largeness is infinite when it bears grief like a beacon that lights the way through compassion on that long journey to absolution. Donne’s spiritual wandering through An Anatomy of the World brings him to the question whether the deceased can “dwell in an elegy.” Perhaps the answer is that the Word became flesh and dwells among us. That in-dwelling is the true elegy that, while renouncing death, establishes for death a worthy purpose.” As Donne says, “For though the soul of man Be got when man is made, ‘tis born but then When man doth die.” Elegy, as speech that remembers, as saying that memorializes, bears me when I am no longer, as it consoles those who listen. Listening brings into grief a stilling sound of grace that reveals the resting place of grief. Donne commands, “”Then turn O pensive soul, to God, for he knows best Thy truest grief, for he put it in my breast.” Death be not proud, the grief that you bring is a gift from the Divine. Grief has been with me from the beginning; death, you have awakened in me God’s hidden gift, and now I am my grief. My grief, like the nation’s, rests in the heart of the Divine.