A Critical Analysis of Death Be Not Proud

Death Be Not Proud ” is included as a sonnet of ‘Holy Sonnets: this sonnet the poet sings the glory and immortality of the soul, and the ultimate defeat of death. Demolishing the popular idea of death as a mighty and dreadful power, the poet says that it is not powerful as men think. It is rather a miserable slave, an agent of fate, chance, actions of wicked people, poison, wars, sickness and old age. It induces sleep but there are various other means like opium and drugs which give a better and gentler sleep. So death has no reason to be proud of its power. It can only make people sleep for a temporary period of time, and after sleep in the grave people shall wake up on the day of resurrection and live forever. Then death’s jurisdiction comes to an end. Importantly, death does not kill human beings. It is actually death that dies, not the soul. Thus, the immortality of the soul is ensured.

                    The fact of the poem that powerlessness of death and the poet presents his theme dramatically. He personifies and addresses death, “Death be not proud”, and he gives argument after argument showing the powerlessness of death. The language is plain and there is a tone of self-confidence and spirited energy. This is a lively poem about death, and simple, calm denial of the power of death, ” for thou art not so”, and this establishes its feeling. We find again the theme of death and sleep. When a man is resting or asleep, he is like a dead man. Rest and sleep are, therefore, images of death. As rest and sleep are a source of much pleasure, so death must be a source of even greater pleasure, because rest and sleep are merely pictures of death. So none should be afraid of death.

           Again ,I am going to remind you that death has no power in itself. It has no independent existence or authority of its own. In order to kill a man it has to seek the assistance of chance, accident, the power of kings and criminals. Nor does death keep good company. It lives with poison, war and sickness, all of which are its instruments for killing people.

                    The words “why swell’s thou then”? repeat the theme of the first line, ” Death be not proud ” … In the concluding couplet only one word “eternally” is not a monosyllabic. The meaning is hammered into us, an effect of at least partly due to the effort we must make if we are to enunciate the words with their awkward combinations of consonants. “One short sleep past” is not easy to say and neither two words, “Death, thou” … This sacrifice of flowing sweetness to energy caused some readers to condemn Donne’s verse as harsh, yet the dramatic control over the movement and tone, as exhibited within the brief compass of the sonnet, gives Donne’s verse its range and power.

 It is an Italian or Petrarchan type of sonnet with the rhyming pattern of abba; abb; cdcdee. The structure of the poem provides a division of the theme into two parts. The octave shows 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 heats the nail on the head. It is not the poet who dies but death who shall die. So, the poem ends with the declaration of the victory of Christian Resurrection over death.

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