Original poem reprinted online here: "Donne, They Say" by John Savoie
More information about the Poet: John Savoie
This poem is in two parts -- the "rumors" of John Donne, and the reader's reaction to said rumors. This piece is a light piece (something Donne would write in the beginning of his poetic career) which contrasts Donne's hard and serious religious style (near the end of his life).
Donne, they say, duelled death,
preached his own funeral,
hymned his own requiem,
then slid his sunken corpse
into the clear flowing stream.
The terse lines bring a sense of speed to the poem, and the verbs of the beginning of the lines punctuate his actions rather than focus on the results. Yes, Donne died., but how: preaching, creating hymns, sliding in to a clear flowing stream. These actions are what Donne is about.
However, the key idea in this first part is deciphering "they" -- not who, but what it means. They, in this context, can only remember Donne for the serious religious style near the end of his life. The man who wrote pages and pages of meditations before his death and wrote poems like "Holy Sonnet Number X."
The latter half of this poem goes back to the kind of frolic in a poem like "The Flea"
So let us breath our own
elegy, weave our own shroud,
or spread and billow the blanket,
then sneak beneath like laughing,
The key here is the word "or." As a reader, there's no huge difference in readings in Donne's later work. The religious gravity is absolute in the poems -- whether questioning death or questioning life -- these are serious business questions. But the "or" here indicates a change to the whimsy. Note how the language changes of lighter alliteration of "b" and "l" and actual laughter appears.
"children before it falls, / and there we'll sleep, hand in hand / as bladed grass beneath the snow." Pay attention to the closeness the speaker exhibits to "us" this sort of "weaving" beneath the snow applies to two parties and this is the cause of the laughter during the fall.