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In this poetry, the speaker insults Death as a personified foe. Most people fear this enemy, yet in this sonnet, the speaker effectively reprimands him. The speaker makes it clear that he is not afraid of death and does not believe that death should be so confident in himself. The readers are given an ironic sense of comfort by the confident tone of “Death, be not Proud” and Death’s straight confrontation since it implies that Death is not at all anything to be afraid of but that Death will ultimately be defeated by something even greater.
About the poet
English poet, scholar, soldier, and secretary John Donne was raised in a recusant household and eventually ordained as a priest in the Church of England. He was appointed Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London with royal support (1621–1631). He is regarded as the foremost exponent of the poets who write about metaphysics. He wrote sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, and satires, all of which are renowned for their metaphorical and sensual style. Additionally well-known are his sermons.
The poem’s central theme is death’s helplessness. The poem expresses the poet’s feelings while making fun of death’s position and making the case that it is not something to be feared or revered. He held that our souls are born via death. As a result, it shouldn’t think of itself as strong or superior because “death” is not unbeatable. The poet also views dying as a great pleasure, much like sleeping and relaxing. He may possibly have a similar experience with the medications. Both a realistic portrayal of death and a firm belief in the hereafter is foreshadowed in the poem.
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.
The direct address makes it clear right away that the speaker is ‘talking’ to Death, who is personified in this instance. It’s fascinating that pride, the most dangerous of the seven deadly sins, is portrayed as if it were a human being who is capable of pride. In human history, death has undoubtedly gained a bad name; many people now view it as a terrifying thing. The speaker, though, is not having any of it. Reputations don’t matter much because, according to the speaker, Death isn’t really “powerful and horrible” at all. The arrogant voice keeps on. Death may believe that he has overthrown his victims, but things have not ended there. People do not pass away, and the speaker adds his own immunity and claims that he cannot pass away either for comical purposes. Death is being handled fairly dishonorably, and the speaker implies in a rather mocking manner that Death is unaware of this—poor Death—as though pity is being expressed.
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.
Who doesn’t enjoy the thought of a lengthy, comfortable sleep following a demanding day at work? Sleep and rest are joys. According to the speaker, death is nothing more than a little extra relaxation and sleep. Sleep is a natural process, and after getting some sleep, we feel better. Similar to Death, but more so. And while Death may claim the best men—the excellent die young, so to speak—they do so with a double benefit: they get to rest and their souls are delivered. Delivery is tied to birth, therefore Death has contributed to the soul’s birth in addition to providing pleasure, making it an essential element of the afterlife.
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?
The assault against Death is stepped up in the final six lines. The speaker claims that Death has no power or control and is a slave to fate, chance, monarchs, and desperate men. Death only exists as a result of random accidents, governmental systems of law and justice, poison and war, and illness. Opium is made from flowers like the poppy, and charms are made from magic; both are just as efficient at lulling people to sleep as Death. Better still. How humiliating. How ridiculous it is to swell up with pride when undeserved when Death is humbled to a weakling.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
The final couplet perfectly captures the situation. Death for a person is merely a brief sleep since they will awaken and continue living eternally, free of Death. The greatest insult: Death will consequently no longer exist. From a Christian perspective, this last straw shows that Death itself is alive and logically subject to its own death. The speaker will awaken as if from sleep and never again experience the dying process.