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Death, be not Proud
By Ladki96 | Edited by CarrieVS | 12th December, 2015 | 2:45 pm

It's always a pleasure to read a Metaphysical poem. I remembered reading one by John Donne in which he masterfully schooled the Grim Reaper. Specifically, the awesome Death, be not proud, from Holy Sonnets (1633). Because my copy is all but trash, I went hunting for the poem on the internet. I now know what I want playing at my funeral:

Donne wrote: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.

Bonus: The sonnet is available in Morgan Freeman's voice.

Boom. Now let's analyse that shit.


Let's tackle the octet - the first eight lines - first, in quatrains. See how the speaker's giving orders like a boss from the very first line like it ain't no thing? Well, it doesn't stop there. The whole poem incessantly attacks Death, who is personified and spoken to as a real person, in paradoxes until he's got no option but to cry uncle.

So the very beginning is the throwing down of a gauntlet, where the speaker's all like: Death, don't be so proud, okay? Some might think you're "mighty" and "dreadful," but newsflash - you aren't. Then the speaker switches to a patronising tone. Aww. You think you kill people, sweetie, but they don't die, not really. And you can't kill me either, face it. The pity is just delicious.

Oh this one's rich. In a way, Death is just like a nap. "Rest" and "sleep," which people use to refresh themselves, are just "pictures" of death. And if rest gives so much happiness, death must give a lot more, since it's more real! It's like Shmoop said:

Shmoop wrote:When they do bad stuff to you, pretend it’s good. Donne says that death will be pleasurable, like sleep and rest. If you ever get into fistfight with someone bigger than you (which we definitely don’t encourage), you can try the same thing: "Hey, thanks for showing me some moves."

The speaker continues, stating that the best die soon - soldiers, cops and the like, brave guys and gals all. They get to rest from the hectic world, and have their souls mail-delivered to heaven.

And now we go to the sestet, the final six lines of the sonnet, which is harsher yet wittier. Poor Death can't catch a break, it seems. Let's split this in two again: one tercet at a time.

The speaker turns up the dial, stating that Death doesn't even have its own free will. Rather, it has to bend over and take it from a variety of other factors - kismet, luck, the whims and fancies of monarchs and messed-up men (murderers, suicidal people, etc.) Death is friends with that bad lot, "poison, war, and sickness," also personified. Common interests and hobbies: causing massive amounts of people to log out of the world. Also, drugs like opium from poppies can put one to sleep just as easily: stop being such a hipster, Death.

In fact, forget Death! Drugs totally pwn Death.
[Editor: No. Drugs are bad. Please stop trying to kill people.]
Buzzkills. Drugs are bad, mkay. Where was I? Oh yeah. So, having thoroughly destroyed Death with the power of logicreationism, the speaker asks Death why he "swells" with pride. Is anyone else imagining a severely obese Grim Reaper? Just me?

And finally, the FINISH HIM! moment. After a short nap, all mortals down to the kicking, screaming ones with their nails dug in Hell's carpeting will be carried off to an eternal afterlife. It will be Death who is "no more." The speaker predicts that in the end Death shall be defeated and, like the noob he is, will die. The last line's totally like one of the punchlines from an 80s Bollywood action movie, in that it doesn't make sense if you think about it. How can Death die? Of course the last "die" bit just means Death won't exist. Thus the rhetorical questions add up to an amazing thrashing of the idea of Death as invincible conqueror.

Tags: Critique, Poetry 16

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