At the round earth's imagined corners (Holy Sonnet 7)
by John Donne
No, we're not talking about Terminator 2. This is the Biblical Judgment Day, the Christian reckoning of the sins of all souls, both living and dead. This event is central to the vision of the end of the world, or Apocalypse, described in the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. Donne borrows images from Revelation but eventually decides, "You say I'm a sinner, I say I should be saved, let's call the whole thing off." Thus, Judgment Day is described in the first eight lines of the poem, before the speaker changes his mind in the last six.
- Line 1: Donne is most likely alluding to a passage from Revelation 7 in the Bible: "After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree." But he updates the passage to reflect the modern knowledge that the earth is round. Why would he do that?
- Line 2: When a poet talks to someone or something that can't respond, it's called apostrophe. Unless the speaker has a direct line to the Angelic community, that's what we've got here, as he orders the angels to blow their trumpets. Also, the image of angels with trumpets alludes to another Biblical passage, from Revelation 8: "And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets."
- Lines 3-4: The lines also allude to the theological belief that the bodies and souls of dead people are reunited at the end of time.
- Lines 5-6: More Biblical allusions. The "flood" is Noah's flood, or the flood in which Noah was spared. This story is told in the Book of Genesis. The "fire" refers to the fires that will consume those judged as wicked in the Apocalypse.
- Line 12: The word "there" refers to the place of the Last Judgment.