What is the paraphrasable meaning of sonnet 17 from John Donne's Holy Sonnets?
Donne's 17th "Holy Sonnet" can be paraphased to determine its obvious "meaning," but it can also be analyzed to explore its effectiveness as a poem. The poem was almost certainly written in response to the death of Donne's own wife, who passed away at age 33 after having just given birth to their twelfth child.
Donne opens the poem by saying that his wife ("she whom I loved")
hath paid her last debt
To Nature" (1-2)
In other words she has died, and although he speaks of his affection for her in the past tense ("loved"), the poem's very existence implies his continuing love for her. She has "paid her last debt / To Nature" (a standard phrase for dying, suggesting that we all live on borrowed time).
She can no longer do herself nor him any earthly "good" (2), since her spirit has been taken up into heaven prematurely and unexpectedly (3). Therefore, the speaker vows to focus his mind entirely on "heavenly things" (4), including his wife but including much else. Her death has reminded him of the mortality of himself and of all living things, and so he is in a properly meditative state of mind. Ironically, her death has thus done him some "good" (2) by making him direct his thoughts to heaven.
Even when his wife was still alive, the speaker's admiration for her whetted his appetite for seeking God (5-6). Her goodness reflected the goodness of her creator, and thus her presence inspired the speaker to want to seek out the divine source of that goodness, just as we can follow a stream to its source (6).
However, even though the speaker, thanks in part to his wife's influence on him, has found God, and even though God has helped slake some of his thirst for God's love, he still feels thirsty for even more love from...
(The entire section contains 603 words.)
check Approved by eNotes Editorial