While many people who know the end is near make preparations for their death and last wishes, John Donne approached the event in what many would view as a chilling manner. In this article, you will learn what Donne did as he neared the end of his days.
John Donne of London was a poet and prose writer who is cited as a great influence for many writers in the past and present. He was a master of words that displayed a playfulness often compared to the style of Shakespeare. Donne was also an Anglican preacher at St. Paul’s Cathedral, where the intensity of his sermons filled standing-room-only congregations. However, in the eyes of many, there was nothing delightful in the way Donne approached his final days.
During the final three months of his life, he played an intricate role in the details for his death and burial. While it was not unheard of during his era, Donne draped himself in a death shroud and posed for the effigy of his tomb. The British were known for this practice, which began after many health issues affected the people of this time period.
The people of the time period viewed life as a preparation for death. It was not uncommon to actually “rehearse” for the final event. There were actually Christian manuals that gave people instructions on how to die. Death was a significant part of everyday life, which is why you see skulls decorating the desks of scholars and clergyman in artistic depictions of the past. Many people carried pocketsize mementos to constantly remind them of death, and to keep temptations out of their minds.
As Donne felt his death approaching, he had already seen his wife pass away in childbirth and had lost six of his twelve children. He was 59 years old when he started to feel the looming end. Donne was sick and on December 13, 1630, he started to make preparations. First, he created a handwritten will , using legal training he acquired before he entered the professions of poetry and preaching. It is not known the exact cause of Donne’s death, but his illness was described as chronic tonsillitis, “growing weakness of the limbs,” “infirmity of the spleen” and “fever.” If he had suffered a lifelong battle with tonsillitis, then his body would have been more susceptible to other infections throughout his life.
Donne was deeply religious, leaving his household painting of Adam and Eve to the Earl of Dorset, his picture of Christ’s entombment to the earl of Kent, and his Virgin Mary to the earl of Carlisle, which now site in the British royal collection. He made specific preferences for his burial , citing St. Paul’s Cathedral as his favorite place. He wished that his final resting place would become close to the south aisle, behind the choir. This is actually where his body can be found to this day.