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Literary Analysis: John Donne's "Death,Be Not Proud"

Updated on December 23, 2012

John Donne's "Death,Be Not Proud" or Holy Sonnet 10 is a sonnet of the Shakespearean type. It primarily endorses the fact that \ Death is not the Universal Destroyer of life. A monologue ensues in the form of a dispute between Man and Death where death is apostrophized. The effect of death is condensed by its representation as an undisruptive type of rest or sleep. John Donne refuses to accept death as ‘the final finale’. Religious conviction upholds the belief of eternal life after death embedded at the very core of its ideology. This marks the permanent end of death. Therefore, why is it that death is abhorred or held in awe as the Ultimate Subjugator. The spiritual objective of all believers has forever been to guide them from the cycle of life to salvation (or immortality).In that case, why are people petrified of Death? One has to acknowledge that only a true faith lends us the power to envision and foresee an undying life after death.

Sleep and rest, that are ultimate forms of solace are minimized mirror images of death, then why is not death a source of succor? Moreover, the most upright and honorable of men pass away soon as they are dear to God and relax in the serenity of peace before long. These virtuous men are alleviated from all mundane lassitude. The righteous are thus relieved from physical exhaustion and bodily exertion. In such a context, they are associated with the true nature of their souls and are no longer oblivious to the same. Donne was a preacher himself, which is why his sonnets have the tone of a spiritual speech.The lines of the poem remind one of St. Paul’s famous lines in Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

Donne utilizes his typical style here by persistent use of hyperboles.He employed the same to parody the Petrarchan sonneteers. He indulges in verbal histrionics and declares that Death has no right to be awe-inspiring .It is, but, the aftermath of all warfare, deformities and diseases. A person engaged in an act of suicide is in charge and control over death. Here death succumbs to Man; it is never vice versa. Death also surrenders before Providence .Consequently, Death can never stand as the Vanquisher of Life. Again, even righteous men and maids expire at premature age, and one must comprehend that it would be heavenly injustice if it were to be so. The gist of the matter is: as such people go straight to God; death is demoted in the ascent to heaven. John Donne emphasizes that the phenomenon of death is associated with unpleasant phenomenon like poison, battle and other infirmities; then how does it avow to win people over. Besides, poppy and potions are also capable of putting one fast to asleep. It is for that reason superior to death that is more excruciating. One sleep past we wake up; and that is the death of Death.

© Rukhaya MK 2012

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