Death as Poetic Device in John Donne’s The Dampe


Author: Nelya Babynets, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico City
Published: June 06, 2020

Citation: Babynets, N. (2020). Death as Poetic Device in John Donne’s The Dampe. IAFOR Journal of Arts & Humanities, 7(1).


John Donne’s theological as well as secular creations are impregnated with images and ideas dealing with death: murders, ghosts, corpses, epitaphs and deaths inhabit a great number of his work. Nevertheless, death in the poetry of John Donne not only is a thematic focus, but also plays the part of a poetic device that adds sensual liveliness to the poem. Thus, in this essay I propose to go beyond the thematic boundaries of the concept of “death” in John Donne’s poetry and analyze in depth its operation within poetic discourse, specifically focusing on its metaphorical nature and its ability to create sensual liveliness in the poem. With this purpose in mind, I have approached John Donne’s poem “The Dampe”, in which death does not appear only as a thematic concern, but also emerges as a poetic device in its own right, one able to create vivid imagery in the verse. My analysis shows that in “The Dampe”, death, which always displays its gruesome primary meaning regardless of discursive contextualization, rules the process of the suspension of primary predicates and determines the way new semantic relevance is created. These new connotations, which arise from semantic irrelevance on the denominative level, introduce ambiguity into the poetic discourse and offer numerous interpretative possibilities – in other words, they deepen the meaning of the poem and intensify the aesthetic experience of its readers.

Keywords: death, metaphor, conceit, metaphysical poetry