A Short Commentary on John Donne's "Death, Be Not Proud"

Topic: ArtPoetry
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Last updated: May 31, 2019

John Donne is one of the most famous metaphysical poets of the seventeenth-century versifiers. In fact, historians of literature consider him the father of metaphysical poetry. He wrote many wonderful and great holy poems.

An example of his religious poems is sonnet number ten, “Death, be not proud”. In this sonnet he speaks about death and how it should not be proud because it is neither mighty nor fearful. To prove his point of view, he uses an argumentative tone and logical elements taken from science as well as nature and mixes them in a wonderful way.The argument starts in the first quatrain as Donne ad-dresses death and challenges it by saying that it is neither mighty nor dreadful, which, to some readers, sounds quite strange and inconvincible. However, in the second quatrain he starts to persuade the readers of his opinion about death.

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First, he proves one part of his argument that death is not frightful by comparing it to sleep. That is to say, death, as Donne says, is actually like sleep, the source of pleasure for all people, and it does not kill them but it relieves the virtuous ones of them from pain, both physical and spiritual one.After that, this argumentative poet moves to prove the other part of his argument that death is not powerful or even great through using a convincible image. He describes death as a slave to kings, to fate, and to those who commit sins and suicide, and thus, it is controlled by others who are superior to it, and has no authority. Besides describing death as a slave, he intensifies its inferiority by describing its friends as poison, sickness and war which are of the same quality as that of death, not fearful or great.Also, he tells the readers that there are other sources for pleasures and better than that of death, for example, opium and magic.

At last, he writes the conclusion of his debate that death will die and virtuous people will live forever. The sonnet has some features of the Petrarcan sonnet. The rime scheme of the first eight lines is abba abba, and there is a full stop after the eighth line which is similar to the Pe-trarchan form. However, there is no shift of thought after the full stop; the idea continues from the beginning to the end.Also, the rime of the last six lines is cddc ee which is dif-ferent from that of Petrarch’s.

In the same time, the sonnet tends to follow the form of the Shakespearean sonnet. It has three quatrains, and each quatrain discusses a certain idea which is related to the main theme of this sonnet. In addition, at the end of the sonnet, there are two lines that rime together as a couplet, and contain the conclusion of the poet’s ideas that he wants to inform the readers. This division of thought is typical to the English sonnet. This form helps Donne in explaining his point of view very clearly.

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