How do Shakespeare's Sonnet 31 and Donne's "Holy Sonnet 10" compare and contrast with each other?

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Shakespeare's "Sonnet 31" and Donne's "Holy Sonnet 10" both share the theme of death, and both pose a challenge to the idea that death is really the end of human life, but each poet approaches this concept quite differently.

In Shakespeare's "Sonnet 31," which falls within the "Fair Youth" sequence, the challenge to death is posed in the form of the subject, whose "bosom is endeared with all hearts" and in whom "reigns love, and all love's loving parts / And all those friends which I thought buried." The poet suggests that, although "many a holy and obsequious tear" has been brought to the poet's eye when his past loves have died, he now finds that all the things he had loved in those people he now finds reborn in the subject of the poem, his new love. There is a very funereal compliment paid in the line, "Thou art the grave where buried love doth live"—the poet's new love has, in his own way, returned to the poet the "trophies of . . . lovers gone."

Despite the occurrence of the word "religious" to describe love, this poem is not religious in our modern understanding of the phrase: rather, the poet says, death does not truly kill our virtues not because of any afterlife, but because we will always find again the parts of people we admired in someone else. As the poem concludes, "Their images I lov'd I view in thee, / And thou, all they, hast all the all of me."

Donne's "Holy Sonnet 10," on the other hand, is very much concerned with a religious challenge to the idea that death is really the end. Although similar in sonnet form to Shakespeare's poem, it does not share Shakespeare's suggestion that the traits of the dead live on in others, but rather that people cannot truly be killed at all—"nor yet canst thou kill me." Death, Donne says, is not "mighty and dreadful" as many fear, but in fact "slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men"—that is, Death is not in fact in charge of His own doings, but arrives at the behest of others wielding "poison, war, and sickness." Donne goes on to say that Death is really no different to sleep—"one short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more." The poet is alluding here to the Christian belief in an afterlife: the personified "Death" "shalt die" because he has only the power, in the view of the poet, to put us to sleep for a short time, before we are reawakened to live forever with God.

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The sonnets contrast with each other on subject, underlying metaphor, entity being addressed along with problem and solution.  On the other hand, they compare with each other in regard to optimistic tone and on the thematic topic of eternal life, although they contrast once again on the means of attaining eternal life.

In Donne's sonnet, "Death Be not Proud, Holy Sonnet 10," the subject is the real or feigned power of a personified Death. Donne asserts that Death's power is feigned. The underlying metaphor is the comparison of Death to a pleasant refreshing sleep. The entity being addressed by the poem is Death, itself. The problem or situation presented in the octave is that Death has no power to kill the speaker and that those who Death takes are only resting. The solution presented in the sestet is that Death is the pawn of fate and kings and that when the dead awake to eternal life, then Death itself shall die.

In Shakespeare's "Sonnet 31," the subject is the nature of the poetic speaker's beloved in whom all hearts reside and who is Love personified. The underlying metaphor compares past loves lost to death with the quality of all-encompassing love in the present beloved. The person being addressed is the living beloved. The problem or situation presented in the octave is the tears of mourning shed for lost loves that now are accumulated in the beloved. The solution presented in the sestet is that the beloved, who embodies all who have preceded, is now the sole recipient of the speaker's love and devotion.

Both speak of eternal life, Donne's of eternal life through victory over Death, a victory in which Death will die, and Shakespeare's of eternal life through metaphorical resurrection through the all-encompassing qualities of the newly beloved one. The final contrast is that Donne is theologically serious while Shakespeare is entirely metaphorical.

The rhyme scheme of Donne's marks it as a Petrarchan sonnet in an a b b a a b b a  c d d c  e f scheme with no rhyming end couplet, while the rhyme scheme of Shakespeare's marks it as a Shakespearean sonnet, which is an innovation on the Petrarchan sonnet. It is in an a b a b c d c d   e f e f  gg scheme with a rhyming end couplet. Both sonnets have subject changes at the fifth and ninth lines as established by Petrarch as the definitive sonnet structure. In Donne's the changes, or turns (called voltas), are from those who have died to (5) the metaphor of sleep for death to (9) Death being the slave of kings and chance, etc. In Shakespeare's, the turns are from Love to (5) the speaker's tears for those past to (9) the new love being the grave of the past loves, their embodiment, their completion.

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