This Is My Play’s Last Scene – Critical Analysis & Explanation

This Is My Play’s Last Scene - John Donne

Paraphrase of Poem

This is the last scene of the drama of my life. According to my destiny, I have reached the last mile of my journey’s end. My life has been like a running race; I have run the race quickly but without any purpose or achievement. This is my last step, the last wish, and the last minute. At the end of my life, Death like a glutton will immediately separate my body from my soul. My body will then sleep forever and my soul will be face to face with God. But the fear of punishment for my sins gives me a shiver and a fright. (This Is My Play’s Last Scene)

As my soul returns to heaven to take its original scat, the earth-born body shall remain in the grave. My sins of the flesh belong to the earth and would push me to hell. So, let my body go to hell for its sins, but let the soul remain in heaven. God should regard my soul as pure but the flesh which committed sins should remain in the world and with the Devil (The soul has been freed from the body and consequently from sin. As such God should not punish my soul but bless it once again).

Critical Appreciation

This is one of the sonnets included under the title Holy Sonnets: Divine Meditations. In all these sonnets, the fear of death, the consciousness of his sin, the anxiety and uncertainty of his future in view of the imminent damnation dominate the poet. In spite of all these uncertainties, there is in this poem a luring yearning for the life of the flesh, which is indicated by the words. There is an apparent mixture of contradictory feelings in the poet as he lies on his deathbed. As he reflects on the sins of the flesh for which he is not repentant, here he fears eternal damnation, and yet somehow he wants to be saved from punishment. The logic of the last four lines of the poem is rather unconvincing.

Development of Thought

The poet compares his life to a drama in the poem “This Is My Play’s Last Scene”. The last few days of his life are like the last scene of the play. The metaphor of the world as a stage is found in Shakespeare’s as you like it. The poet refers to the last scene. The word “last” is repeated in the first four lines. Now that the poet is on his deathbed and there is no hope of his survival, he expresses his fear of damnation.

The race of his life is now coming to an end. At the finishing point stands death like a glutton at the feast of life, he has enjoyed life to the finger-tips and his regret at the race “quickly run” is evident in the same way he thinks of Death as a gluttonous beast waiting to devour his prey and this gives him the jitters. As his body is destroyed by death his soul shall go to heaven from which it first came. It will then stand face to face with God on the Day of Judgment. The idea of facing God, in view of the magnitude of his sins makes him feel terribly restless and tense. As he has sinned greatly in life, he is expecting nothing but hell. (Ref: This Is My Play’s Last Scene)

The Faulty Logic

In order to escape the consequences of his sinful life, the poet gives reasons for exemption from punishment in hell. The sins of human beings arise out of flesh. The flesh commits sins and therefore only the body should be punished and sent to Hell. His soul, which will be released from the prison of the flesh, should not be punished for the sins of the flesh. There is a flaw in this argument. The flesh cannot sin of its own accord.

The idea of sin first arises in the mind; then the mind gives the direction to the body parts, which commit the sin. Moreover, there is the conscience in man, which can guide him properly. Therefore, the poet’s contention that only the body sins while the soul which remains in the guides the body is free from sin cannot be accepted. Actions are due to ghosts and sinful thoughts lead to sinful acts. At any rate, the sophistry of the poet can have no weight with God who is the True Judge.

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