Good morning! Last Tuesday, we celebrated Halloween. As you may know, Halloween has its roots in a Christian feast in the Church calendar. In the Catholic Church, November 2 is All Souls Day, a day when Christians remember and pray for the dead. Somehow, the ideas of dead people and ghosts got mixed up and now we have the silly idea of ghosts – real and unreal – going around, frightening people. Really, when people die, they do not become ghost – I repeat, dead people do not become ghosts. Today, Mr McKenzie would like to read you a famous poem on the theme of death. [POEM]
The first thing that you may have noticed just by listening is the rhyming pattern. Rhyming means having similar sounds: tree, me, three, key; cold, told, bold, sold; are examples of rhymes. If we look at the last words of the first four lines: thee, so, overthrow, me; you will see that the first and the fourth words rhyme with each other and the middle two rhyme. So, we call this pattern an ABBA pattern. In the left-hand column, the pattern is given to you.
Second, words like Thee, Thou, Soonest, Shalt are old English words. This poem is written in old English because the poet (someone who writes poems) lived in the 16th Century. You can see from the right hand column that in modern English, these strange words are words that you are familiar with. Let’s examine the first line: Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so. In simple English: Death, do not be proud, although some have called you mighty and dreadful, for you are not so. Even if you don’t understand every single word, can you guess who the THEE / THOU (-meaning you) is in this poem?
Yes, it is death. The poet John Donne is speaking to death, as if death is a person who can make a conversation with him. In poetry, we call this personification, pretending a non-human object to be a human person. We know death is not a human person, death cannot be proud. But by asking death not to be proud, John Donne is pretending that death is a human person who could be proud. Here, John Donne is really talking about his own ideas of death. Can you guess where John Donne got this idea? I would now like you to listen to a passage from the Bible. The words mortal and immortal are important to understand the meaning of this passage: We describe something to be mortal when something has to die. Similarly, “immortal” describes things that can last for a long time or even forever. For example, We will all die one day because we are mortal beings. Lydia “Fatty” Shum is one of the immortals of Hong Kong television. When something that can last for a long time or even forever, we can also use the word eternal (the second last line at the bottom of the page). E.g. Mary is eternally cheerful. No matter what happens, she always looks at the bright side. Peter got an A in his exam because he eternally works hard. [Scriptures]
John Donne is speaking to death as St Paul did. St Paul also talks to death, asking death where its victory is and where its power to hurt is. Paul asked this question not that because he hopes to find the victory of death or the power to hurt. Paul knows very well that because of Jesus Christ, death does not win over us. So, we cannot find death’s victory or power to hurt. Because Christ has died for us and has risen for us, death is no longer something we need to be afraid of. That’s why we can be brave when facing death or dead people, or even ghosts. This is precisely the reason why on All Souls Day and during all of November, we remember the dead. Instead of being afraid of ghosts and dead people, we can even pray for them. So let us now pray altogether. Let’s say the prayer together printed on page 15.