Death Be Not Proud (poem)

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Sonnet X. "Death be not proud" 
by John Donne
John Donne by Isaac Oliver.jpg
Portrait of John Donne
Writtenbetween February and August 1609
First published inSongs and Sonnets (1633)
CountryKingdom of England
SeriesHoly Sonnets
Subject(s)Christianity, Mortality, Resurrection, Eternal Life
Genre(s)religious poetry, devotional poetry
Rhyme schemeabba abba cddcee

Sonnet X, also known by its opening words 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 seventeenth-century English literature. Written between February and August 1609, it was not published during Donne's lifetime; it 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 the sonnets in a different order, where this poem appears as eleventh in the Songs and Sonnets (published 1633) and sixth in Divine Meditations (published 1635).

"Death Be Not Proud" presents an argument against the power of death. Addressing Death as a person, the speaker warns Death against pride in his power. Such power is merely an illusion, and the end Death thinks it brings to men and women is in fact a rest from world-weariness for its alleged “victims.” The poet criticizes Death as a slave to other forces: fate, chance, kings, and desperate men. Death is not in control, for a variety of other powers exercise their volition in taking lives. Even in the rest it brings, Death is inferior to drugs. Finally, the speaker predicts the end of Death itself, stating “Death, thou shalt die.” [1]


"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 CDDC AE rhyme scheme.

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

The poem's opening words are echoed in a contemporary poem, "Death be not proud, thy hand gave not this blow", sometimes attributed to Donne, but more likely by his patron Lucy Harington Russell, Countess of Bedford.

Notable use in pop culture[edit]

"Death Be Not Proud" was partially recited by Jason Miller as Patient X in the film The Exorcist III.

The first two and last two lines of "Death Be Not Proud" are recited by Paladin in The Prophet (Episode 16, Season 3 of Have Gun - Will Travel).

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

Emma Thompson's character, Vivian Bearing, recites the poem in Wit, where John Donne plays a central role.

The first two lines are recited at the beginning of the title track to Children of Bodom's third album Follow the Reaper.

The poem is recited in its entirety by Kenneth Branagh at the end of Episode 4 of the 1987 BBC series Fortunes of War, following the death of one the main characters.

The title of the 1981 hostage drama film Kings and Desperate Men starring Patrick McGoohan, Alexis Kanner and Margaret Trudeau is taken from the poem and McGoohan recites part of it in the film.

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


  1. ^ "Analysis of John Donne's Death Be Not Proud". Retrieved 6 November 2017.

External links[edit]