John Donne's Holy Sonnets Questions and Answers
by John Donne

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After reading and analyzing "Meditation 17", what do you think Donne means when he says "affliction is a treasure."

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What Donne is saying in the latter part of this meditation is that affliction is a treasure because it is through suffering that we are "matured and ripened by and made fit for God." The meditation as a whole concerns the idea that "no man is an island," meaning that the suffering of one person is shared among his peers; we are not discrete beings, but merely parts of mankind. As such, while it may seem that our own suffering and the suffering of others is not "current money"—it is not obvious how we can spend it and gain from it in this life—"tribulation is treasure" because it is through suffering that we "get nearer and nearer our home, heaven." When another person is suffering, or even dying, this physical pain is no help to the dying man; he is thinking about his own pain, to which he will soon succumb. But to those who hear the bell tolling the news of this man's death, that affliction becomes a treasure because it forces us to feel pain on behalf of this other person, encouraging not only a sense of sympathy and connection with the rest of mankind, but also a contemplation of our own mortality. When others die, it encourages us to think about our own lives and our closeness to God; their suffering becomes "treasure" to us because it helps us to become better people and "secure" ourselves with God.

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In the work  'Meditastion 17' the English metaphysical poet John Donne writes the words

'Affliction is a treasure and scarce any man hath enough of it'

John Donne, in this piece, is discussing the ideas of suffering and of existence. Although spending much of his younger life chasing the ladies and having fun, Donne also later settled into his more sedate and ponderous role as a Church minister. Originally a Roman Catholic, Donne as a Church of England minister still kept many of his familiar traditions at heart - and one of those was the tradition of serving Christ by sharing in his suffering. Donne talks of treasure and riches in terms of storing up heavenly wealth by doing God's will and understanding Him better by suffering like Christ. The more of this one could manage the more spiritually wealthy one would become. Suffering in sickness was to be craved as it allowed one such an opportunity.

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