Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Death Be Not Proud - a poem by John Donne
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
Donne addresses death in this poem. What he does in this poem is to systematically denigrate (put down) death which is feared and considered powerful by everyone. In each of the quatrains he puts forward interesting and unusual arguments to show that death is powerless and not frightening.
In the first quatrain, he asks death, which is considered by many as powerful (mighty) and frightening (dreadful), to not be proud because those who have been overpowered by death do not really die. So death can not kill him too. He makes fun of death by calling it ‘poore death’ meaning that death has been deceived in thinking that it has killed people.
In the second quatrain, he puts forward another argument to show that death is not as powerful or frightening as it seems. First, he says that sleep and rest which are images/imitations of death give immense pleasure. Therefore, from death, which is a deeper sleep and rest, much more pleasure should be got. Hence, the best of people who die get rest from their tired lives, and their souls are freed from the body. So death is indeed doing something good and comforting to people.
In the third quatrain, he puts forward an even more powerful argument. He says that death is a slave to its agents (who or which bring about death) like fate, chance, kings and desperate men and uses vile (evil) means like poison, wars and sickness to kill. Also poppy and charms can make people sleep better than death. For these two reasons, he questions death as to why it is so proud of itself.
Finally, in the couplet, he deals the death blow to death. Donne uses the religious belief that after death we rise again to live with God eternally. So he says that death only puts us to a short sleep and then we wake up to live eternally. Hence, death has no control over us. Therefore, he states emphatically that death should die.
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