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John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” Poem Analysis

John Donne is often considered as one of the most remarkable literary figures of the Elizabethan age. ‘Death Be Not Proud’ is regarded as his most widely accepted religious poem. A closer examination and analysis of his religious poems reveals that Donne broke away from the conventional Elizabethan traditions and revolted against the easy, flexible style & stock imagery that was synonymous with the poetry of the age. Donne’s poems; especially his religious poems, reveal the struggle in the mind of the English people who lived in the 16th and 17th century before taking orders from the Anglican Church, their horror of death, their fear of God’s rage and their desire for God’s love. The major theme of the poem is pretty much obvious for the reader. The poem clearly states that death has no right to be proud in this world as people do not die but continue to live after a short sleep. Donne’s poem Death Be Not Proud discusses the ineffectiveness of death and the poet compares death to a slave who must obey another’s command.

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As a metaphysical poet, John Donne follows an argumentative style in his poem – Death Be Not Proud. It is a Shakespearean sonnet which comprises fourteen lines. In his sonnet the poet expresses the concept of death and tries to prove that man’s greatest fear never deeply affects him. Donne pictures death as a blessing. The entire poem displays a passionate approach of the poet towards death and one realizes that the poet has employed an effective vocabulary to create a specific attitude in the reader towards the theme of the poem. The poet employs an emotive language and the diction is exaggerated. The reader instantly gets the feeling that the poet has succeeded to an extent in conveying his thoughts and emotions using effective diction. Sometimes it interrogates the reader’s attitudes and thoughts on death.

Another significant fact, which is to be mentioned here, is that Donne’s poem gives examples of the effective use of poetic devices such as metaphor, connotation, personification and imagery. In the poem, the reader can feel the continued presence of an unnamed hero who absolutely denigrates death and provides new hope and relief to the community, thus revealing his pity towards death’s pride. It is clearly evident that Donne’s use of words in ‘Holy sonnet 10’ compels the reader to deeply analyze the poet’s sincere effort to convey the main theme. The word ‘Eternally’ is a powerful word which gives the reader the feeling of a prolonged period of time. The poet gladly emphasizes that life after death will be a never ending, pleasurable journey. Here, Donne deviates from the conventional mode of poetry and addresses death in a rather strange & unusual way. The poet employs the words or phrases such as ‘poor’,’ slave’ and ’nor yet can thou kill me’. It is easy for the reader to understand the fact that Donne uses connotative language to express the poet’s views about death as well as to illustrate its weaknesses. The poet uses the word ‘pleasure’ which expresses the idea that death is not a fearful element. Here, the reader can easily understand Donne’s conscious effort to generalize the term ‘death’. The poem follows a systematic pattern of rhyme scheme. The rhyming word in the poem Death Be Not Proud is easily noticeable and the rhyme scheme is ABBA, ABBA, CDDC, and EE.

It is the dramatic voice that helps the reader to comprehend the forceful language used by Donne in his divine sonnet. The poet uses the words ‘rest’ and ‘sleep’ which leads the reader to think that death is not a fearful event but instead, an enjoyable experience. The poet’s tone diminishes the seriousness and inevitability of death and reveals its short-term impacts. Throughout the poem, the reader experiences the poet’s attitude of contempt and pity against death. The poet’s connotative tone reaches its zenith when he compares death to poppy or charms. Donne reveals to the reader that both poppy and charms are metaphors for a free and relaxed passing into sleep or a transit into the world of immortality. Thus, he tries to tell the readers that they need not fear the inevitability of death. Protestants strongly believe that death is a curse and it is the punishment given by God. The poet addresses death as; “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;” (Donne). Here, one can see that Donne considers death as an easy route to escape from this earthly life. The insolent tone of the poet indicates his rebellious attitude towards death.

Excessive use of imagery in Donne’s poem Death Be Not Proud requires serious attention on the part of the reader. The poet succeeds in creating an image of death that is neither fearful nor mysterious and is simply a slave. A slave leads a more responsible and submissive life and he/she must obey another’s orders. Death is described as a slave of poor status and being controlled by various external forces that have greater power and stronger hold than death itself. The image of a slave requires a deeper level of learning from the side of the reader. The poet uses different words such as poison, sickness and war in association with death that has the status of a person belonging to a poor/lower class in society. In the very first reading, the image of death, as a pathetic slave who is waiting for his/her master’s permission to take part in a feast, strikes the reader. Another significant fact is that the poet addresses death using different pronouns such as ‘thee’, ‘thou’, and ‘thy’. On a deeper evaluation of the poet’s treatment of death, the reader can very well gather the image of a simple conversation between two individuals.

The image of poppy and charms constitutes Donne’s perfect use of argumentative tone in his poems. These kinds of far-fetched images and conceits provide enough force to establish the reader’s views about John Donne and Metaphysical poetry. The book entitled Introduction to Poetry, by Edith. L. Tiempo helps the reader to understand more about the imagery in Donne’s poetry. The author remarks; “The poetic procedure here is the merging of image and argument into a unity of idea.” (Introduction to Poetry 103). ‘Poppy’ and ‘charms’ are simple creations that can provide sleep or relaxation. Here the reader gets a clearer view of the pathetic condition of death. It could be said that both philosophically and aesthetically, Donne has successfully overcome the pressures created by religious influences and the conventional way of writing.

Metaphor and personification play a vital role in Donne’s poem Death Be Not Proud. Donne uses metaphors frequently in the poem Death Be Not Proud which reiterates the significance of the poet’s comparison of death to sleep. This kind of extended metaphor named ‘conceits’ is common in metaphysical poetry. One can find the perfect example of metaphor in line number nine of this poem. Here, the poet describes death as a slave which conveys the idea that death is weak, feeble and vulnerable. The life of a slave symbolizes submissiveness and the slave only has the right to obey, not to order. In line number 11, the readers can come across another example of a metaphor in the images of poppy and charms. Here, the reader may take notice of the fact that the poet is not satisfied with a mere comparison between death and poppy or charms, but instead, he directly implies that death is peaceful and relaxing. In the line, “From rest and sleep, which but thy pictured be, / Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,” (View of death in Donne’s poetry) the reader can notice the comparison of death with earthly sleep. The extended type of metaphor helps the reader realize that if sleep is a pleasurable activity, then death is also enjoyable in this world. Finally, the poet conveys that death is a deeper form of sleep and it is not at all fearful or dangerous. The same metaphor is referred to several times in the poem and it unravels the mystery surrounding the phenomenon of death. The use of personification is yet another important feature of Donne’s holy sonnet Death Be Not Proud. From the very beginning of the poem, the reader can find the poet’s use of personification. In the first line itself, the reader gets a glimpse of the poet’s attitude towards death. The pronouns such as ‘thee’, ‘thou’ and ‘thy’ demonstrate the familiar and friendly attitude of the poet towards death. According to researchers, Donne sincerely utilizes the poetic device of ‘personification’ to convey effective and powerful messages through his poems. In the concluding part of the poem, Donne demonstrates his obvious beliefs about life after death. The poet’s personal beliefs and thoughts are clearly visible in the concluding lines. The poet concludes that death is a mortal thing in this world that men need not have to fear death but instead, accept it as a period of rest. Different poetic devices such as personification, metaphor, rhyme scheme and metrical pattern play a pivotal role in enhancing the aesthetic quality of the poem.

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To conclude, this poem demonstrates a thought-provoking subject about the ineffectiveness of death in this world. Throughout the poem, the poet tries to convey his main argument that death has no right to be proud. In a connotative and flexible style of writing, Donne provides a different kind of aesthetic pleasure to his readers. The poet employs an argumentative tone in his poem Death Be Not Proud and the reader can find a number of metaphysical conceits. Through different images poet simplifies the concept of death and reminds the readers that death is a pleasurable experience. Donne’s use of metaphor and personification provides a new world of aesthetic pleasure to the readers. The comparison of death with sleep, poppy and charms are, indeed, perfect examples of poetic craftsmanship and great imagination. The poet uses the word ‘slave’ to describe death; thus revealing the poet’s argumentative approach to the reader. Analyzing Donne’s poem, the reader can understand the fact that the use of an argumentative tone and extended metaphors expresses the ineffectiveness and weakness of death in this world and underlines the similarity between a slave and death.

Works Cited

Donne, John. Holy Sonnets: X. Poem Hunter, 2003. Web.

Introduction to Poetry, 2006. Web.

View of death in Donne’s poetry, n.d. (Provided by the customer).

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 8). John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” Poem Analysis. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/john-donnes-death-be-not-proud-poem-analysis/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 8). John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” Poem Analysis. https://studycorgi.com/john-donnes-death-be-not-proud-poem-analysis/

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"John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” Poem Analysis." StudyCorgi, 8 Dec. 2021, studycorgi.com/john-donnes-death-be-not-proud-poem-analysis/.

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StudyCorgi. "John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” Poem Analysis." December 8, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/john-donnes-death-be-not-proud-poem-analysis/.

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StudyCorgi. 2021. "John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” Poem Analysis." December 8, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/john-donnes-death-be-not-proud-poem-analysis/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” Poem Analysis'. 8 December.

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