What is the Difference Between a Semicolon and a Comma?

This is a great scene from the movie, Wit. Though the scene stands on its own and inspires a re-reading of Donne’s Death Be Not ProudHoly Sonnet X, you can learn more about the rest of the movie here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wit_(film)

Let’s use this clip as a way to inspire a re-reading of Death Be Not Proud. Then, compose an argument in 3-6 sentences about the most artful poetic tool that Donne employs to create his metaphysical insight about life, death, and eternal life. Leave a “comment” in Standard English to start our class discussion online.

With a semicolon: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173363

Without a semicolon: http://www.academia.edu/2335183/John_Donne_Holy_Sonnets_X_Death_be_not_proud_1633

About Bill Sullivan

I am an English teacher working with great students at Suffield Academy. I also teach seniors in various project-based learning environments. Some of the #PBL topics included global issues, such as Pandemics, Climate Change, and Water; more recently I have asked students to research and identify topics important to our school community and their generation. We curate these topics with a #StudentCenteredPBL. For the past eleven years, I also created a driving question for a class to research a local history mystery and present their findings in a community program partnering with our local historical society. These topics encompass researching the lives of enslaved individuals who were contributors to the foundation of our community.
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8 Responses to What is the Difference Between a Semicolon and a Comma?

  1. Nicole Lee says:

    I think Donne’s combined use of apostrophe and metaphors establishes his metaphysical insight about death and life. He addresses Death as if it is a man. He courageously taunts death and explains its powerlessness. Donne’s metaphor of slave in line 9 helps him explain the impotence of death. By stating that death is a slave of fate, chance, a king, and desperate men, Donne reveals his idea that death actually does not have any control on when a person is going to die. Donne’s metaphors and apostrophe let him share his view on death and life and accentuates his brave attitude.

  2. vaughnrogers says:

    Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

    The first two lines of “Death, be not proud” establishes the apostrophe that is used throughout the entire sonnet to personify death. Speaking directly to death, Donne declares that although some call death’s power “mighty and dreadful,” there is nothing for it to be “proud of.” This statement is supported with the later line that says death is “slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men,” and that “poppies or charms” produce similar, equally potent effects. Degrading death, Donne uses apostrophe to tell death that it is stale, and people’s fear for it is only superficial; beneath the surface, death is not worthy of anyone’s distress. Donne’s apostrophe is the most artful tool present, as without it the sonnet’s conceit would not be whole.

  3. Carrie Lauria-Sheehan says:

    I think that Donne’s use of personification is the best poetic device to establish his metaphysical insight about death and life. He personifies Death as a person, speaking to him and taunting him. He speaks directly to Death throughout the sonnet, saying, “Death, thou shalt die” in line 14. This use of personification exemplifies Donne’s belief that death is powerless and insignificant in comparison to life. By personifying Death, the message Donne is trying to convey becomes more visible and significant throughout the sonnet.

  4. Jackson says:

    Donne’s use of personification to humanize death in “Death, be not proud” allows him to level the playing field between humanity and death, and therefore facilitates Donne’s metaphysical insights later on. By referring to Death with a capital letter, as one would refer to a name, and as a “slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,” and saying that it “dwell[s]” with “poison, war and sickness” Donne presents Death as inferior to the average man. Moreover, when Donne claims that Death, too, can die, he goes counter to the common belief of Death’s inescapabilty, and portrays man as the master of Death. Without the personification of Death, Donne would not have been able to so aptly demonstrate his belief in life after Death.

  5. oliviaa1718 says:

    John Donne’s volta is powerful in this poem because it is arguably at a very different spot than in most sonnets. In this poem, the volta is somewhat after the second verse as he switches into explaining the illnesses and fates that kill people; however, another volta is the last part of the poem starting at “Death, thou shalt die.” This is when the poem beings to incorporate the idea of death itself dying, and the idea of eternal life. In the bible, when people are resurrected, they rise from the dead. In this case, Donne is saying that while one is rising from the dead, death itself will die. This is very powerful as this volta introduces a defeat to one of the most powerful, undefinable forces of nature. He is metaphorically killing this force that has been present throughout the poem.

  6. Mia D'Angelo says:

    In Donne’s, “Death Be Not Proud,” he uses the personification of death to express the lack of control it has over other forces. Donne adds, “Death thou shalt die” meaning, death will die itself. Donne’s use of personification creates a feeling that expresses how death is not as powerful as we think it is. By giving death human qualities, Donne compares death to men and reveal that death is no more powerful than a human is. Death is a familiar “person” in the poem and the personification of death makes it be known to the audience that it will not defeat, it will no be something one fears. This aspect of death contributes to the metaphysical insight about life, death, and eternal life as to not fear it, just live.

  7. Katherine Schmitz says:

    Apostrophe is used throughout the Donne’s entire sonnet to personify death. Apostrophe is the act of addressing some abstraction or personification that is not physically present.
    *****“Death be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
    For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
    Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.”*****
    John Donne speaks to death as if it were a person capable of comprehending his feelings. The act of addressing the abstract has its own rhetorical power, like John Donne did. If the apostrophe goes unnoticed, then the poem could be read completely wrong. If it were to be taken in the literal point of view, some may say that he is genuinely talking about a proud person. He also uses personification in his poem as well, this is seen when Donne thinks of death as a person and refers to death as “mighty” and “dreadful”.

  8. Michael Giugliano says:

    I think the personification in “Death, be not proud” is the most artful poetic tool that Donne employs to create his metaphysical insight about life, death and eternal life. This personification is clear when Donne says, “Death, nor yet canst thou kill me” (4) because Death is an abstract entity, it does not physically “kill” anyone. Also, when Donne calls Death a “slave to fate” (9), it is personification because Death cannot be a slave if it is not actually living. Therefore, Donne is portraying death as a living entity that has human abilities and limits. Lastly, Donne says, “Death, thou shalt die” (14), which is personification because if Death is not living, it cannot “die.”

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