How might one explain, line-by-line, the meanings of the last six lines of the sonnet by John Donne that begins "Death, be not proud"?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The final six lines (or sestet) of John Donne’s sonnet beginning “Death, be not proud” might explicated (that is, closely analyzed) in various ways, including the following:



Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,

You, Death, are under the complete control of fate (what must happen), chance (what may happen, such as an accident), kings (because they have the power, for instance, to send people to war or to execute them for crimes), and people without hope (such as people who commit suicide).



And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;

And your [unsavory] companions are poison, war, and sickness, in the sense that death can result from any or all these causes.


And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well

And narcotic plants or magical spells can make us sleep at least as well


And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?

And even better than the stroke of death. Why, then, Death, are you so puffed up with pride?


One short sleep past, we wake eternally,

Once we are past the very short sleep of death, we will be awake and alive forever,


And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

And death itself will disappear; at that point, Death, you (paradoxically) will die.


SOMETHING EXTRA: A major theme of Donne’s Holy Sonnets is the fear of death. In many of the works in this sequence of poems, the speaker seems terrified of dying, not only physically but – more significantly – spiritually. In other words, he especially fears that he will spend eternity in hell, suffering under the torturing, tormenting commands of Satan. In this poem, however, the speaker is uncharacteristically confident that death will lead not to eternal pain but to eternal happiness. Notice that he still assumes that physical death is inevitable, but he doesn’t fear physical death. His great source of happiness and consolation is that he will not die spiritually but will (it is implied) enjoy eternity in heaven with God.


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