The great poet John Donne has given a picturesque description of the powerlessness of Death in this sonnet, and how he considers Death to be the source of an eternal pathway to the gates of the afterlife. The simple sonnet which has the rhyme scheme of ABBAABBACDCDEE, also has a loose iambic pentameter.
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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.
Analysis of Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud”
In this poem, John Donne gives a distinctive message which is engulfed in a rather uncomplicated tone of language. The poet treats the personification of Death as someone who is not even remotely worthy of terror or awe, but of malice. In the eyes of the poet, Death isn’t even close to being powerful because death does not actually manage to kill anyone he thinks he is killing; to the poet, the adventure of death must be more enjoyable than sleep or rest, which are satisfying and pleasurable as well, but are milder variants of death itself.
In the mind of the poet, the best amongst us are taken away by death in a hurry to get to their ‘soul’s delivery’, which is a pun on giving birth that the poet used in the poem to signify that the death of someone’s body is an eventual birth for their soul.
The speaker then mocks Death’s position. The speaker feels that he is above being intoxicated by potions and drugs, and is instead a subject of fate and men who are desperate, both of which deals with death respectively. Th speaker then further emphasizes the idea stating that, provided that the afterlife is forever, the moment a person is consumed by death, it is, in a very ironic tone as the speaker has portrayed it, actually Death that is killed for that person. The reason for this is that the person will never again have to come face to face and be subject to Death. The final idea in the poem is clearly a manifestation of the classic metaphysical instance where an idea which has been cemented throughout the ages is turned upside down by an apparently harmless lie of logic and reasoning.
In light of Donne’s rationality, the death of Death is fascinating and counterintuitive while making complete sense, and hence is considered a modern-day masterpiece.