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A Burnt Ship by John Donne


This poem by Donne is ironic and metaphorical. It starts by giving hope of senselessness then explaining how the people who drowned were actually in the burnt ship and those who escaped earlier from it were burnt while in the sea (as opposed to being drowned). Thus, the hopelessness occurs throughout the writing.

This poem is a one stanza work with six lines. It consists of the rhyme scheme a-b-b-a-c-c. The first five lines consist of ten syllables and the sixth line contains thirteen. The lines consist of no meter pattern like many of Donne's other poetry. He often changes feet depending on his purpose to expose his audience to another set of emotions. For example, "dum-dum" is calming, yet "BA-BA" is exciting.

I take this poem to mean life ends in peculiar ways and that when our time has come there's no way to escape it. Life may end quickly, yet it can also end in an agonizing fashion. No matter which, we can't escape the path of life.


A Burnt Ship

Out of a fired ship, which, by no way
But drowning, could be rescued from the flame,
Some men leaped forth, and ever as they came
Near the foe's ships, did by their shot decay;
So all were lost, which in the ship were found,
  They in the sea being burnt, they in the burnt ship drowned.

Written between 1590 and 1601.

Next: A Hymn to God the Father
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Literary Movement
Metaphysical, 16th Century

Death, Hope, Ironic, Hopelessness, Life, Boat

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