Death, be not Proud by John Donne, Summary and Analysis

Poem

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,1
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,2
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest3 our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave4 to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well5
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?6
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Summary

Mighty: powerful Thee: you Delivery: to reach freedom Slave: servant Fate: destiny Desperate: one who feds up Dost: does Sickness: ill Poppy: red flower which gives us opium Charms: different ways of putting person to sleep Stroke: attack Swell: to become big Eternally: forever Shalt: shall
Abba / abba / abba / aa In this sonnet, John Donne mix the Shakespearian and the Petrarchan sonnet.(Shakespearian, according to the division – Petrarchan, according to the rhyme scheme.
The first quatrain: In the first line, the speaker is personifying death telling him that he shouldn’t be proud although some people call him mighty and dreadful, but it is not so and this is the reason for not being proud. The speaker then says that death cannot do anything because he things that he killed
Many people but actually they are not dead. Then he addresses death, saying that death is a poor thing even though he cannot destroy or kill him. The second quatrain: The speaker is
giving us a proof that death is just like sleep and rest. He is comparing death to sleep and rest. He is asking what we get from sleep and rest but pleasure and if sleep and rest are a copy from the original, so from
Death we are going to get more pleasure. The speaker is telling us that when death come to us it well free our souls and it well rest our bones and our souls will fly from this prison which is the body, so he is telling us that we shouldn’t be afraid from it because it happens every day.
The speaker is giving us another proof that death is not mighty. He is considering death as a slave to faith because the slaves can’t control themselves but they obey orders especially when people want to commit suicide, he goes with them and also he is a slave to chance and kings.
Then the speaker is describing to us the place when death is living in and that it is surrounded by poison, wars and sickness. So he is not powerful or mighty because if it was so, it can change its surroundings. The speaker is saying that anyone can have a long sleep by using drugs or any kind of medicine.
So death is not strong enough and this is better than striking us because we will be waiting to die. After all, the speaker is asking him why he is proud of himself.
The speaker is telling death that he is not afraid of him because after this sleep, he will wake up and live eternally and death, in the other life, will have no place for him and he shall be finished .
The poem is full of Alliteration: Line 1: though – thee Line 3: those – thou Line 4: die – death / canst – kill Line 6: much – more – must / then – thee / from – flow Line 10: dost – dwell / with – war Line 12: than – thy / thou – then Line 13: one – we – wake Line 14: death – die / shall – shalt
He compares death to a slave Metaphor with personification: Death, be not proud. He compares death to a person who is proud. Donne ends the poem with paradox and irony: Death, thou shalt die.
Death is given negative human traits: pride mainly Death is likened to sleep, a commonplace image Poppy and charms refer to the use of opium and magic to produce sleep, or to produce
a gentle death .Poppy is metonymy, it is what is derived from the poppy that is the opiate, not literally the flower itself
Donne’s theme tells the reader that death has no right to be proud. This poem is a metaphysical poem: It deals with human experience as much of the poetry that was written during those time. However, the poets of the era being intelligent and educated meant that the poetry they wrote would tackle the profound areas of experience.

Analysis

John Donne shifted dramatically in his life: The early John Donne was the passionate lover and rebel of sense; the later Donne, a man consumed with his own spiritual journey and search for truth. John Donne is known as the first and greatest of metaphysical poets – those of a genre in which “the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons and allusions”, as essayist and critic Samuel Johnson put it.

Here, John Donne has taken a Romantic form and transformed a transcendental struggle of life and death into a quiet ending, one in which death “shall be no more”. Where Mr. Johnson spied cumbersome force, John Donne’s style dazzles with soft and calm brilliance, even in the cascade of calumnies against the great “equaliser” Death. “Fate, chance, kings and desperate men” are yoked together, not in bondage, but in freedom, in their power to inflict and manipulate death at will. The panorama of life and legacy has overcome death time and again, yet John Donne expounds the expansive exploitation of death in one verse. It is the will of man that triumphs over the cessation of life, the will to believe in what cannot be seen, to dismiss “poor death” as mere “pictures” compared to the substance of life infused with the Spirit.

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;No bragging rights for Death, according to the poet, who in the first two lines of his sonnet denounces in apostrophe the end of life, “not proud”, “not so”.“Mighty and dreadful”, two weighty terms, do not belong nor confer any majesty on death. “Thou are not so.” A simple statement, a certain indictment and the poet has dispensed with Death, who is ponderous, no preposterous for the previous fears His presence has impressed on mankind.
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow?
Die not, poor death, nor
yet canst thou kill me.

In this neat conceit, Death himself is fooled, limited by the surface. “Thou think’st thou dost overthrow,” the monarch of destruction is an impoverished exile, removed forever more from the
room of imperious prominence. “Poor death” is now the object of pity, the last enemy that will be
thrown into the lake of fire.
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
The poet compares death not to a savage desecration nor a fatal, final battle, but instead an extension of
any easy rest, one from which a man receives “much pleasure”. “Rest and sleep” as “pictures”, the poet
condescendingly remarks, bring death into the secondary status of demeaning dimension. Men’s bones
receive a welcome respite and their soul the final delivery from this Earth. Death has nothing to brag
about, for death is put in comparison with rest, with sleep, with regenerative silence. Death does not
catch the prey of frail men, but instead sets men free and without fail
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?
Here, death as deemed a slave, a unique trope, one, which the poet fashions with wit and
wisdom. “Fate” is far greater the force than the end of life, which menaces many men.
“Chance” is a game, a mere trifle, a toy that men gamble with, whether ending their fortunes
or their lives. “Kings” put evil rebels, madmen and threats to the state, to death. No one escapes
the justice, the rule, the righteousness of the king, who even in passing, his dynasty passes on:
“The King is dead. Long live the King!” is proclaimed from death to life, where the children
of yesteryear become the rulers of today and the progenitors of the future. Death, mere
bystander, ushers in the transitions of power.

As for the company of death, the poet outlines simply “poison”, natural or otherwise, which
can slay a man in minutes or in hours. Poisons that have ended kings and queens, eradicated
vermin and other pestilences, even drugs that prosper and prolong life began as poisons, which
in improper doses kill, and quickly.
Whether the vain ragings of craven men or glory on the battlefields, “war” covers a range of
reigns and rights, ponderings and possibilities. Death is not even a scavenger, but a frustrated
element pushed to the limit, expected to do the bidding of the common folk and the ruling elite,
the final weapon that man overcomes even in being overcome. In war, where men die for
country, they live forever in the memory of their country- men, mocking Death who has aided
their eternity.

“Sickness” is the necessary pause for men who cannot contain their passions, for the growing
race of human beings who run the race with no thought to running out. Sickness is the crucial
agent that brings a long and much- needed arrest to those who inflict harm on their bodies, who
resist the bounds of natural appetite. Sickness also is the final sign, the moments when a man
who departs knows well that his time is short and so the stultifying stops of pains and coughs
at least buy him time to say “good-bye”.

“Poppy or charms can make us sleep as well.” “As well” communicates “in comparison” and
“in addition”, gaily sporting with the super- abounding grace of nature’s wonders, which man
has contrived to ease his pain and quicken his rest. “Poppy” is a joyful word, a colourful, childlike
flower winding away with careless wonder in the wind. “Charms”, whether magical or
romantic, are bewitching and bewailing, at least for the one who has fallen beneath their spell.
Sometimes, the simple charm of a smiling face suf- fices more, traced with the soft face of a
poppy gladly handed to a loved one. And so, Death is outdone once again!
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.

“Sleep” appears again, but not in conjunction with rest; instead, rest leads to life eternal, where
man will no longer need to rest, fashioned as he will be in a body that does not age, that will
never flag or fail, John Donne decrees. Death is further impoverished, ruined, left desolate.
Man in eternal life witnesses death succumbing to himself. “Death shall be no more,” the poet
proudly yet dulcetly declares, not even bothering to speak to death. So certain, so final, so
enriched with vigour, the poet then whispers, yet loudly of the import of the paradox: “Death,
thou shalt die.”

Death dies, or is Death dying? What a wicked end, the poet has mocked, derided, denounced
and diminished death into a cruel joke, a maxim that maximises the power of the man reborn,
trusting in a higher power to infuse him with eternal life, forever inoculating him from the
subtleties of war, poison and sickness all. Fate is fated to disappear, chance has become
certainty, kings of limited renown are dethroned and desperate men now hope. “Death, thou
shalt die.” Death is now bereft of pride, like a witless cowboy who has shot himself in the foot,
powerless and wounded, and by his own stroke.
John Donne indeed has done and dispensed with Death and mortal man ever- more may
rejoice!

Theme
“Death Be Not Proud” is among the most famous and most beloved poems in English literature.
Its popularity lies in its message of hope couched in eloquent, quotable language. Donne’s
theme tells the reader that death has no right to be proud, since human beings do not die but
live eternally after “one short sleep.” Although some people depict death as mighty and
powerful, it is really a lowly slave that depends on luck, accidents, decrees, murder, disease,
and war to put men to sleep. But a simple poppy (whose seeds provide a juice to make a
narcotic) and various charms (incantations, amulets, spells, etc.) can also induce sleep—and do
it better than death can. After a human being’s soul leaves the body and enters eternity, it lives
on; only death dies.

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