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The Computation

The Computation


by John Donne

Lines 9-10 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 9-10

Yet call not this long life ; but think that I
Am, by being dead, immortal ; can ghosts die ?

  • The poem's final lines are typical of a lot of English Renaissance poetry: a ridiculously clever rhyming couplet that simultaneously sums up the poem and flips it on its head.
  • By this point, we were tempted to call the speaker's condition "insanity," but apparently he thinks we will prefer "long life."
  • Just so we're clear, the speaker has described living 2,400 years since "yesterday."
  • Let's do the computation here: 20 + 40 + 40 + 100 + 200 + 1000 + 1000 = 2,400.
  • If you are now thinking that 2,400 divided by 100 equals the number of hours in a single day, we think you're on the right track.
  • He doesn't want us to say that he has long life simply because he has lived so long. Instead, he introduces a new element for us to ponder: he's dead. That's right: he "died" when he and his lover parted.
  • Because he has died, and people in the Renaissance believed in immortality after death, he must be "immortal." But it's not a good immortality. He has unfinished business back on earth.
  • Without her, he is a mere shadow of himself, a ghost. The final words are, "can ghosts die?", which is a rhetorical question.
  • No, ghosts cannot die, and Donne is stuck haunting the world until he meets his lover again. But you might get the impression that the question also contains the thought, "Wow, I wish I could just die rather than being so obsessed with my lover."
  • It's a bittersweet ending, to be sure.

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