Death is a very complicated subject that people view very differently in different situations. In 's Holy Sonnets, he writes about death in Meditations X and XVII. Both meditations use many similar rhetorical devices and appeals, but the tones of the meditations are very disparate. Donne's different messages in Meditations X and XVII convey tones of defiance and acquiescence towards death, respectively. His apparent change of attitude towards death could be accounted for by his differing life situations while he was writing the meditations: mid-life, and near-death. "Meditation X", which Donne wrote in mid-life, has a very defiant and powerful tone.
Donne begins the meditation by defying normal views of death, and saying how "death, be not proud" (Donne). In deprecating death, Donne shows how he does not fear something which mortals usually fear. His reckless mockery of death is his appeal to pathos, specifically the human emotion of happiness and determination to live; "Meditation X" is a battle against an inevitable, insidious, and metaphysical force. In "Meditation XVII", Donne begins instead by deprecating himself, conceding that he "may think [himself] so much better than [he is]" (Donne). This concession conveys a much more acquiescent and passive tone, appealing instead to the human emotions of melancholy and yearning to understand and accept death. Logos is also manipulated by Donne in different ways so that different tones are created.
In "Meditation X", Donne uses logos to show how death is not special or unique, which creates the defiant tone. In "Meditation XVII" Donne uses logos to show how death is an omnipresent, omnipotent entity. His repetition and emphasis of "bells," which symbolize death, are reminders of how death is everywhere: bells are everywhere, therefore death is everywhere. The rhetorical devices in each of Donne's meditations do not differ much, but they create very different tones.
Allusion in both meditations to the Bible has different effects on the audience. In "Meditation X" death is referred to as "thou" which alludes to the Bible which constantly uses "thou" when God refers to human beings. This allusion is a further demonstration of Donne's feelings of superiority over death. In "Meditation XVII" death is referred to as being an extension of God himself, which is an extreme opposite from death's position in "Meditation XVII", and which works to create the more acquiescent and passive tone. Relatively, both meditations appeal to the audience's values of religion and God by referring to the Bible. Irony is employed by Donne in order to set the overall tone of the meditations.
The irony in "Meditation X" is that in the end, "Death, thou shalt die" (Donne). This poetic justice follows the theme of "Meditation X" in its defiance against the forces of nature, and ultimately identifies the tone of recalcitrance. The irony of "Meditation XVII" is that death "is our only securities," which does not renounce death as evil and scary, but marks it as stable and faithful. It is apparent that the author of "Meditation X" is most likely a young, stubborn person determined to beat death and fight against nature, and that the author of "Meditation XVII" is an older, wiser person who does not fight death, but accepts it as the final step towards God. The fact that both authors are one and the same is indicative that unlike death, humans are constant to change. Holy Sonnets X: web XVII: web.