This is my playes last scene

A meditation

This is one of Donne's ‘Holy Sonnets', possibly written round 1607, though some critics suggest 1609. The date is not important, especially as it is not the deathbed poem it appears to be at first reading. The depiction of death and dying is much more to do with ways of meditating, especially based on Ignatian meditation.

More on Ignatian meditation?

Metaphors for death

Donne is imagining himself at his death, described in a series of metaphors, ‘playes last scene', ‘pilgrimages last mile' and ‘my race quickly runne', and several others. Donne likes to pile up words or images for dramatic effect. Death is seen like some monster, a very different image than in the sonnet ‘Death be not Proud' and more akin to ‘Oh my blacke Soule!', where the pilgrim image is again used.

Some of the above images were biblical ones: races (Hebrews 12:1) and pilgrimages (Hebrews 11:13) particularly. The language and idea of sleeping ‘a space' is also biblical (1 Corinthians 15:51-52), as are ‘shall see that face' (2 Corinthians 3:18). Donne makes a sharp distinction between body and soul, and in this we can see some of his own divided personality. His body ‘in the earth shall dwell'; but his soul will come face to face with God as his judge. This is what seems to terrify him.


We may think this is rather morbid, but we need to remember that consciousness of sin and the awesomeness of God were typical emphases in early seventeenth century religion, of whatever sort. Even so, Donne's sensitivity to this seems to be much greater than someone like George Herbert's, who feels unworthy (as in Love II), but not terrified.

Concluding prayer

The last four lines are a concluding prayer to round off this meditation. ‘So, fall my sins' is an order: ‘Fall, my sins ... '. That is to say, let my sins drop down to Hell now, where they belong; then I shall be ‘purg'd of evil' (cf. Hebrews 1:3). The phrase ‘Impute me righteous' is as problematic as the phrase ‘Teach me how to repent' in ‘At the Round Earths Imagin'd Corners'. So is Donne really more concerned about getting rid of sin now; or being ‘imputed' righteous because of Christ's life? It seems Donne wants it both ways, just to be sure.

More on imputed

The sonnet is basically a Petrarchan one, with octave and sestet. The rhyming couplet at the end is more typical of a Shakespearean sonnet, however. It gives a clinching feel to the poem.

Investigating This is my playes last scene
  • Do you think that Donne does clinch it at the end of This is my playes last scene?
    • Or does the sonnet still feel unresolved?
  • What words suggest urgency and fear?
  • What words suggest calm and faith?
  • Can you see the way in which the octave has a transition into the final part of the sonnet?

(see Themes and significant ideas > Death as friend or foe; Personal Sinfulness and Unworthiness).

Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.