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Donne begins the poem by noting that many have called Death (using capitalization to personify death as a being) "mighty and dreadful," although he is not. Lines 3-4 relate that the people who Death thought he overthrew are not dead, and Death will not kill the narrator. To the spectator, death looks like "rest and sleep," which according to the narrator, are pleasing things. Lines 7-8 admit that some of the best men are taken by Death, but their souls are delivered from their bodies. Donne writes that Death is a "slave to fate," and it is forced to live amongst "poison, war, and sickness." People can take certain drugs, like opium ("poppy" here) and assume a state almost like that of death. Line 12 challenges this false pride that Death seems to feel. In line with tenets of religion, specifically Christianity here, Donne explains that the sleep will be short and "we wake eternally/And death shall be no more." Perhaps the ultimate irony, Donne ends the poem by noting that Death will be the one who dies. The poem seeks to minimize the role Death plays, while highlighting the eternal afterlife sought by Christians. John Donne is categorized as one of the metaphysical poets, and this poem is perhaps his most remembered, eventually being used as the title of a memoir by John Gunther.
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