John Donne's distinguished sonnet "Death, be not proud" was first published in 1633. This poem directly addresses death, challenging its perceived might and asserting that it holds no true power. He goes on to personify it as a figure and argues against its supposed dreadfulness, presenting an alternative perspective on mortality.
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.
Death be not Proud Poem Summary:
In "Death, be not proud," Donne personifies death, urging it not to be arrogant despite being regarded as formidable, chilling, and dreadful. The poet asserts that death does not truly conquer or annihilate individuals, as they continue to exist beyond its reach. Then he compares death to rest and sleep; they are actually images of death. He suggests death is more pleasing than these activities. Virtuous people die often, which means death is nothing but the resting of the body and the arrival of the soul in the afterlife.
Death is not a king but only a slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men. Further, it depends on poison, war, and illness. So it's not only the death that we die. Drugs and magic spells are more effective than death when compared to taking rest. The poet, therefore, asks death that for all the following reasons, it can't be as proud as it looks.
For him, death is nothing but sleep between our life on earth and the eternal afterlife. Once death visits it's over and can't visit us another time. So he tells death that it's better for you to die instead of we do.
Citation: Donne, John and Shawcross, John T. "The complete poetry of John Donne". 1966: Garden city. N.Y. Anchor Books.
~ Literpretation Team for Education