"Death, be not proud" by John Donne

Holy Sonnets


John Donne, one of the most prominent English poets of the seventeenth century, wrote this poem in 1609 as part of a collection of divine meditations written in the style of a Petrarchan sonnet (two quatrains followed by a sestet). The work personifies death as a fragile, weak, and mortal being that merely enjoys the illusion of strength, power, and immortality. 

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, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Reflection Questions

  1. In what ways does this poem challenge the perceived power of death?
  2. How do you interpret the last two lines of the first stanza? 
  3. How do you understand the second stanza? 
  4. How can Death die?

This content is provided to you freely by Ensign College.

Access it online or download it at https://ensign.edtechbooks.org/new/holy_sonnets_death_be_not_proud_john_donne.