Throughout the play Wit, Vivian quotes various lines from the Holy Sonnet X by John Donne. A scholar of Donne’s work, Vivian incorporated many of these thoughts and words into her everyday life, and it could be seen that his worked shaped her as an individual. That being said, Holy Sonnet X is extremely important to the content of Wit, and the play would be very different if it was based on the content of a different sonnet.
Holy Sonnet X works within the play by supporting Vivian’s initial matter of fact response to dying and also her subsequent fears. “Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;” this line perfectly describes Vivian initial feelings of her terminal illness. Initially, Vivian’s took her diagnosis lightly. She joked during her physicals, and viewed her diagnosis as if it was just a normal occurrence in her life. Just like Donne did in that line, Vivian did not view death as a serious thing. Just like Donne, Vivian considers death to be something that could be mastered. In Sonnet X Donne stated “And poppy, or charms can make us sleep well, /and better thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?” In the play, Nurse Susie gave Vivian a morphine dose to ease the pain of dying and make her last few hours as comfortable as possible. The ideas of both these lines and this play scene are parallel. In the holy Sonnet, Donne was referencing the fact that “poppy” elicits a sleep more deep and peaceful then death could ever provide. The “poppy” is represented by the morphine that is administered. At the ending of the play Vivian walks towards the light, is parallel to the Holy Sonnet X line “One short sleep past, we wake eternally”. This line implies that one’s live doesn’t start until they die. By being awake eternally, one is infinitely alive. When Vivian died at the end of the play, she was in a way freed from living her life according to Donne.
If the focus of the play was shifted to Holy Sonnet XIV, the underlying meaning of the play and the parts mentioned above would certainly be lost. The inclusion of the Holy Sonnet X supported many of the key points of the play, from Vivian’s initial defiance of her death sentence, to her finally accepting her fate. However, other parts of the play would be highlighted and enhanced. Holy Sonnet XIV focuses on the idea of the “three personed God”. This could be representative in the play by Dr. Kelekian, Jason, and Nurse Susie. Also the several lines by the speaker in the sonnet ooze of desperation to gain acceptance and healing from God. “Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.” this line is similar to Vivian unquestioning commitment to Dr. Kelekian and Jason’s seemingly dangerous full dosage of medication. Just like the speaker, Vivian was made anew at the end when she died and was freed from not only her cancer but also free from living her life according to Donne.
There are lines and moments in this poem that do not apply to the poem at all. Specifically, the line “except you enthrall me, never shall be free, / nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.” would not be contextually significant. Though Vivian was a scholar of Donne’s work, she did not follow everything he wrote about. Sex and love are two hot topics of Donne’s that were not really emphasized in Wit. Any real mention of sexuality in the poem was minuscule, and if sex was incorporated into the play, the concentration on Vivian’s struggle with accepting and understanding death would have been muddled.