Death Be Not Proud : Summary and Analysis

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Death Be Not Proud

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.

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.
Death Be Not Proud

Critical Analysis

      The poem is included as Sonnet (10 ten) in the volume of Holy Sonnets: Divine Meditations. In 'Death Be Not Proud' Donne demolishes: two popular concepts firstly death is dreadful and secondly death is mighty. He personifies Death and addresses him directly. Death has a certain power over man and it gives temporary sleep. If death and sleep are like brothers, greater rest and relaxation must come from death. Death releases the soul from the body's prison. Opium and narcotics can induce sleep like death. Why then should death boast of its great power ? The poet therefore calls it "poor death". Moreover, man does not die; his soul lives for ever; it is, therefore, death which becomes superfluous and meaningless. The victory of Christian resurrection over death is the last nail in the coffin of death. The poem proves the thesis that death is neither terrible nor powerful.

Development of Thought:

      The poet argues that death is not dreadful because those whom death claims to have killed have a long and peaceful sleep. Sleep resembles death, but just as sleep refreshes and invigorates, similarly death would provide more comfort and pleasure. This is the reason for the virtuous dying young. Death brings rest and peace and therefore it is not dreadful.

Death: A Slave:

      Death is not powerful, as men think. It is not a powerful king but a miserable slave. It is an agent of fate, chance, actions of wicked people, poison, wars and sickness. Death is a servant of sickness and old age. It induces sleep, but there are various other means like opium and drugs which give a better and gentler sleep. Death has no reason to be proud. It can only make people sleep for some time. After sleep in the grave, people shall wake up on the day of resurrection and live for ever. Then death will have absolutely no power over human beings. Thus death's jurisdiction comes to an end. In fact, death does not kill human beings; it is death which itself dies. The immortality of the soul ensures the survival of man. So, the poem ends on a paradox: Man is immortal; death is mortal.

Critical Remarks:

      Apart from the debating skill and the plausible argument of the poet, there is a lurking fear of death. The allusion to resurrection and immortality does not in any way reduce the fear of death. One is reminded of Bacon's words: "Men fear death, as children fear to go in the dark". The comparisons are common - death as sleep, death as opium, body as prison of the soul. This poem is similar to the sonnet entitled. At the round earth's imagined corners where Donne speaks of death's woe, and the triumph of souls over death on Dooms day. Here Donne emphasizes the impotence of Death.

      The structure of the poem facilitates the division of the theme into two parts. The octet proves that death is neither dreadful nor mighty. The sestet brings the argument to a personal level and regards death as a slave and a door through which the soul passes to immortality, The last line hits the nail on the head. It is not the poet who dies. The poet declares happily: "Death, thou shall die"

Paraphrase:

      Line. 1-8 : Oh, Death, do not be proud. You are not powerful or horrible as some think. Those whom you are supposed to destroy are not dead in reality. You cannot kill me either. Death is like a restful sleep. People derive relaxation and joy from sleep - which is but a picture of death - similarly death gives greater comfort and rest: That is the reason why the best and virtuous people die young. Death frees their souls from the prison of their bodies and offers rest to them. As such, death cannot be called dreadful.

      Line. 9-14 : Death is a slave or agent of Fate, accident, power of kings and criminals. It accomplishes its tasks through poison, war and sickness. Opium and other drugs can induce better sleep and more easily and gently. They are more welcome than the blow of death. Why is death puffed up with pride? Death can make us sleep for a short period in the grave. Thereafter we shall live eternally in Heaven. Death then will have no power over us. In fact death does not kill us; we become independent of death. It is death which itself dies.

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