Death, Be Not Proud

Death, Be Not Proud

by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Summary of the poem, “Death, be not Proud”

  • Popularity: Also known as Holy Sonnet X, this sonnet was written by John Donne in 1633. John Donne was a famous metaphysical poet. The popularity of this poem lies in its unique subject, as it was a devotional as well as a warning to ‘personified’ death.  Using the metaphor of death, the poet argues that death is not permanent and it serves as an eternal pathway to life hereafter. He also has demonstrated the Christian doctrine of resurrection and immortality of the soul, calling death as an inferior
  • “Death, be not Proud” a representative Poem of Logic: Donne has presented death as a powerless figure. He denies the authority of death with logical reasoning, saying the death does not kill people. Instead, it liberates their souls and directs them to eternal life. He does not consider it man’s invincible conqueror. Instead, he calls it a poor fellow without having free will. The arrival of death is also compared with a short rest and sleep that recuperates a person for the upcoming journey. The poet’s denial to the conventional approach of death gives the reader a new interpretation.
  • Major Themes “Death, be not Proud”: The major theme in the poem is the powerlessness of death. The poem comprises the poet’s emotions, mocking the position of death and arguing that death is unworthy of fear or awe. According to him, death gives birth to our souls. Therefore, it should not consider itself mighty, or superior as ‘death’ is not invincible. The poet also considers death an immense pleasure similar to sleep and rest. For him, the drugs can also provide the same experience. The poem foreshadows the realistic presentation of death and also firmly believes in eternal life after death.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in “Death, be not Proud”

Literary devices are used to bring clarity, richness, and uniqueness to the text. Donne has used various literary devices to allow readers to try to find more interpretations. The analysis of some of the literary devices is given below.

  • Personification: Personification means to attribute human features to non-human things. Donne has personified death throughout the poem, stating it should not be proud. Being proud is a human quality. Hence, death is given a human quality of having feelings and emotions.
  • Metaphor: There are three metaphors in this poem. The first is used in the opening line “Death, be not proud.” Here death is compared to a proud man. The second is used in the ninth line, “Thou art slave to fate.” In the last line in an extended metaphor where death is compared to the non-existent or unrealistic object.
  • Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sounds in the same lines of the poetry such as the use of /th/ in “And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then” and /m/ sound in “Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow.”
  • Metonymy: Metonymy is a type of metaphor in which an object is used to describe something closely related to it. In this poem, “poppy” and “charm” are used to produce gentle sleep or death.
  • Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of the vowel sounds in the same line of poetry such as the sound of /a/ in “Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,” and the sound of /e/ in “And soonest our best men with thee do go.”
  • Irony: Irony means a statement that may mean something different from, or the opposite of, what is written. Irony often expresses something other than their literal intention, often in a humorous. For example: “Death, thou shalt die.”

The literary analysis shows that Donne has made his poem appealing using diverse literary devices.

Analysis of the Poetic Devices in “Death, be not Proud”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  • Sonnet: A sonnet is a fourteen-line poem in which the same idea runs throughout the poem. In this sonnet, John Donne has combined the Shakespearian and Petrarchan style. The division of the sonnet reflects the Shakespearian structure, whereas the rhyme scheme shows the structure of Petrarchan sonnet.
  • Rhyme Scheme: In first, second and third quatrains the poem follows the ABBA rhyme scheme, and in couplet the rhyme scheme is AA.
  • Meter: Most of the verses of this poem are written in iambic pentameter in which unstressed syllable is followed by a stressed syllable, as it is stated, “from rest,” “and However, the meter fluctuates, as the poem progresses.

The analysis of these poetic devices shows this sonnet as a unique representative poem for mixing Shakespearean and Petrarchan style in its structure and meter.

Quotes for Usage from “Death, be not Proud”

These lines can be used when teaching the religious belief that has faith in life after death. It can also be quoted to rid the fear of death. Additionally, the poem and the below lines can teach the importance of living in the world and hereafter.

“One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”