Death Be Not Proud (poem)

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"Death Be Not Proud" redirects here. For the memoir by John Gunther, see Death Be Not Proud (book).
Sonnet X. "Death be not proud" 
by John Donne
JohnDonne.jpg
Portrait of John Donne
Written between February and August 1609
First published in Songs and Sonnets (1633)
Country Kingdom of England
Series Holy Sonnets
Subject(s) Christianity, Mortality, Resurrection, Eternal Life
Genre(s) religious poetry, devotional poetry
Form Sonnet
Rhyme scheme abba abba cddcaa
Lines 14

Sonnet X, also known by part of its first line as "Death Be Not Proud", is a fourteen-line poem, or sonnet, by English poet John Donne (1572–1631), one of the leading figures in the metaphysical poets of sixteenth-century English literature. Written between February and August 1609 the poem was not published during Donne's lifetime and was first published posthumously in 1633. It is included as one of the nineteen sonnets that comprise Donne's Holy Sonnets or Divine Meditations, among his most well-known works. Most editions number the poem as the tenth in the sonnet sequence, which follows the order of poems in the Westmoreland Manuscript (circa 1620), the most complete arrangement of the cycle, discovered in the late nineteenth century. However, two editions published shortly after Donne's death include some of the sonnets in different order where this poem appears as eleventh in the Songs and Sonnets (published 1633) and sixth in Divine Meditations (published 1635).

Poem[edit]

"Holy Sonnet X"

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, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
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 souls 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 than 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 suffered a major illness that brought him close to death during his eighth year as an Anglican minister. The illness may have been typhoid fever, but in recent years it has been shown that he may have had a relapsing fever in combination with other illnesses.

The sonnet has an ABBA ABBA CDD CAA rhyme scheme.

According to literary scholar and poet John Daniel Thieme, the poem expresses an open defiance against fate and death. Thieme describes Donne's speaker as "bold in his confidence that death ultimately will be defeated by the victory a saved soul experiences in resurrection. After 'one short sleepe past', eternal life snatches victory and power from death."[1]

The last line alludes to 1 Corinthians 15:26: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death".

The poem was set for voice and piano by Benjamin Britten as the concluding song in his cycle The Holy Sonnets of John Donne.

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Daniel Thieme, "Introduction" in John Donne, Holy Sonnets (Newton NJ: Vicarage Hill Press, 2014), 11. ISBN 9781502773388

Further reading[edit]

  • John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, ed. by Anthony Raspa (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1975), xii–xiv.
  • Charles M. Coffin’s ed. Donne’s poetry, The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (New York: The Modern Library, 1952

External links[edit]