Analysis of Meditation IV by John Donne Essay
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The opening statement of John Donnes Meditation IV sets a disposition for the whole article. ..Except God, Man is a diminutive to nothing (Donne 23) is saying man is bigger than the world; excluding the fact that God conquers and controls all. Man is in control of his own life, but God controls his fate. It is also stating that the world is nothing in comparison to man and is not as complex. Donnes numerous comparisons between human anatomy and nature shows how mans complexity overcomes the world and is therefore considered bigger than it.
Mans veins are used in comparison to simple rivers and muscles to hills to justify his complexity over the world. This analogy is used to show just how closely related humans are to nature, yet still closer in comparison and controlled by God. God is the puppet master of all, and has fixed the order of nature (Aquinas 79) . He has made man the only species with direct connection to Him. The Lord says, The works that I do, he also shall do, and greater than these shall he do (87).
Donne continues his comparison by stating as the whole world hath nothing, to which something in man doth not answere, so hath man many pieces, of which the whole world hath no representation (Donne 23). This means that man can relate to anything in the world, but the world does not have the capacity to do the same. He goes on to state that even though Gods creatures are everywhere, not just in the sea, and are born giants physically in comparison to humans, their mental competence is nothing in contrast to man. Donne states that Gods creatures reach everywhere; land and sea, Earth to Heaven, but his thoughts are comprehended by all.
Donne writes of two different worlds where monsters and diseases coexist and live with one another. The world in which there are monsters is a representation of the Earth. Animals are able to cure themselves, so they are able to survive and live harmoniously; each animal is able to coexist and live independently. The world of disease is one which has been created by the humans and representing the human body. They are so consumed with conquering everything and everyone; they have acquired diseases for which there is no name because there are so many within the world. The diseases have become entangled and have formed new ones.
Donne is saddened by the separation of the worlds and the humans dependency on animals and various remedies. He cannot understand how we can have so many diseases without names and remedies. Donnes analogy of Hercules and a Physician does give a physician heroic characteristics, but also can be perceived negatively. The over exaggeration of the physicians position makes it seem like he is fighting monsters instead of disease and as if he existed on Earth instead of within his own human body. The line, …hee musters up al the forces of the other world, to succor this; all Nature to relieve Man (24), explains the previous statement by saying that the physician uses the knowledge of Earth to cure the human body of disease. Donne feels like the physicians need to take from the monsters world is degrading and humans should be able to exist without the need of animals.
Donne then tries to separate himself from the physician and say the physician is different than the typical man. We have the phisician, but we are not the physician (24). He will not be considered in the same hierarchy as the physician, even though a physician is human. Because the physician must resort to animalistic means to cure disease, he is considered lesser in Donnes eyes; even though he previously believed God placed all of human kind on the same level. He goes on to state that we shrink back to Gods set standards for us, sink into our dignity and respect for other creatures, and have the physician do all the dirty work.
Donne then goes on to list different animals that do cure themselves of ailments. The Hart can distinguish which herbs can deceive a predator and make it vomit up the poison. A dog that is attacked knows he can be cured by eating grass.
Donne mentions the Drugger, which is the closest creature to Man, because he simply supplies the medicine. The Drugger, unlike the physician, does not find the cures or have to consult the animal world. Because the Drugger cannot cure himself of disease, he must seek advice from the physician to be healed.
Donne speaks of the innate instinct to cure oneself that humans do not have and infers that creatures with that instinct are superior to those without. This contradicts his previous stance that humans are superior to all and are Gods gift to the world. It seems now he believes that animals are the superior beings and God is working through them instead. He is disappointed by his own species and tries to separate himself from human beings. By his analysis of the physician, he is able to make himself feel superior and less inadequate for not being able to cure himself.
Donne then refers back to his previous stance of human position and discredits it completely. He proposes the question, whats become of mans great extent and proportion, when himself shrinkes himselfe, and consumes himselfe to a handfull of dust?(25) It seems as if he is trying to figure out what will happen if humans become so dependent upon animals for all aspects of life. What will be left for humans to do if animals become superior and take over everything? The comparison to a handful of dust may be an overstatement, but a metaphor to the humans usefulness at the very least.
The question, whats become of his soaring thoughts, his compassing thoughts, when himself brings himself to the ignorance, to the thoughtlessnesse of the Grave? (25) puts man at the animalistic level and says they have the thought capacity of a simple animal. The reference to the Grave lowers humans even more to the afterlife and a corpses inability to do anything. This reference refers back to Donnes previous statement that humans will eventually be useless, but takes it a step further and makes them as useful as a corpse. The Grave also is an allusion to God and his ability to control life and the fate of everything.
Donne ends his meditation with a restatement on his final stance on Earth vs. the human body. He believes humans are able to live within world of disease, but do not have the capacity to heal themselves like animals do. They are therefore inferior and the physician is even lower because he is a human that must heal other humans, but still cannot heal himself like animals are. Animals are able to live independently and do not rely upon one another to survive. If one species died, they have to ability to adapt and overcome any problems. Donne feels that humans would not be able to do this. At first he believes God made humans strong and able to conquer all, but he contradicted himself and talked his way out of that belief.
Bruce Boehrer states that, [relative anthropocentrism] associates large and variable subsets of the human community to a greater or lesser extent with the realm of nature, while reserving full human statues only for specific, arbitrarily defined social groups (Boehrer 17) . Boehrer may be inferring that humans choose when to use the talents God specifically gave them, which would not make them inferior as Donne states, but rather superior for not wasting energy on characteristics not given to them, but using inferior creatures to cure them.
Donne, John. Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 1990.
Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologiae. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Company.
Boehrer, Bruce. Shakespeare Among the Animals: How To Do Things With Animals. Palgrave.