What are the figures of speech in "Death, be not proud"?

Some of the figures of speech in "Death, Be Not Proud" include apostrophe, allusion, paradox, and caesura. Together, these devices create a belittling tone toward death and ultimate hope in an eternal afterlife.

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The poem is an example of apostrophe, addressing Death (personified) as a living being who is thus listening to the speaker. This intentionally removes the mystery or sense of superiority in the concept of death, making it seem as though death can be easily defeated.

Allusion is used in the final line. 1 Corinthians 15:26 states, "The last enemy to be destroyed is death." This both echoes the sentiments of the poem, nothing that Death is the enemy of humanity, and that Death has no power itself. Ultimately, those who believe in Christ will defeat Death through salvation and eternal life. The speaker of this poem notes that death is simply a "short sleep," after which "we wake eternally / And death shall be no more."

A paradox is established in these lines:

For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not

Death thinks it it possible to "overthrow," or end the lives of, humanity. Another way to rephrase this would be "The people you think you have killed are not dead." This paradox reinforces the central meaning of the poem, that death has no ultimate power and is only a temporary transition into a much more powerful afterlife.

Caesura, which is an intentional pause within a line of poetry, is used in the opening:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

These pauses establish two purposes. First, the intended audience is made clear. It's a slow and intentional direct address, somewhat confrontational in nature because of the long pauses. Second, the central idea of the poem is presented in a pointed way. Death cannot call itself proud, and the speaker will provide the support for this statement throughout the poem. Caesura creates a dramatic opening for this poem, which one would expect when addressing Death itself.

All of these devices are used to achieve a nearly belittling tone toward death and therefore propel the ultimate message of hope in an eternal afterlife.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on April 20, 2020
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The most important figure of speech in the poem is the personification of "Death." By personifying death, Dickinson makes it seem less powerful. In fact, she makes it seem mortal, and vulnerable, just like people. This is the point that Dickinson makes throughout the poem. Toward the end of the poem, she emphasizes the point by posing a rhetorical question, addressed to death. She asks, "why swell'st thou then?" The point of a rhetorical question is to put an implied answer in the listener's mind. The implied answer here, based on what Dickinson has said about death previously in the poem, is that death should not be arrogant, and so has no reason at all to "swell."

Throughout the poem Dickinson also uses a lot of imperative phrases. An imperative phrase begins with a verb, and is expressed as an order. For example, "be not proud," and "Die not, poor Death." By using imperative phrases like this, Dickinson is implying that death is not the one with the power. Death is the one who must take the orders.

Dickinson continues to, as it were, put "Death" in its place, by describing how it is, metaphorically, "slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men." In other words death comes when summoned or ordered by kings, or when called upon by desperate, suicidal men, or sometimes simply when fate or chance decides that death should occur. The point of the "slave" metaphor is to compound the idea discussed above, that death does not have dominion over men, or fate, but is a "slave" to the whims of both.

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First of all we have personification. This is a figure of speech where something that isn't human is given human characteristics. In this particular case, that something is death. All of the character traits given by Donne to death are negative ones. Death has no reason to be proud; some may call it "mighty and dreadful," but it really isn't. Death can really be nothing more than sleep:

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure . . .
And what's so special about sleep? Sleep potions and drugs can do the job just as well as death:
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
In any case, death is but a short sleep, a prelude to better things: the elevation of our souls to eternal life:
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Sleep is used by Donne, then, as an extended metaphor. This is in keeping with his strategy in the poem to disabuse death of its pride and arrogance. In reducing death to little more than a short sleep, he's depriving it of its tyrannical power over us.

Synecdoche is a figure of speech in which a part of something stands for the whole. An example would be "hand" as in "hand in marriage." You don't marry someone's hand; the hand is used to stand for the whole person. Donne's use of synecdoche here is much less obvious, more subtle:

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

"Me" doesn't simply refer to the speaker of the poem; it refers to all of us. So the speaker is standing for the whole of humanity as part of the general theme of the piece.
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Of course it's not just our bones that rest when we die, but our whole bodies. But "bones" is being used here to stand for our bodies.
Alliteration is used throughout the poem. In particular, the repetition of the "d" sound induces a deadening, sleepy rhythm that perfectly captures the spirit of Donne's extended metaphor of death as sleep. Also, the repetition of "k" introduces a note of sparky defiance to the poem, a bold challenge to the deadening weight of death's sleep:
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
In the previous line the spirit of defiance is also represented by the repeated use of the "th" digraph:
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow . . .
Finally, Donne ends the poem with a paradox. He's emphasizing his main point once more—that individuals and societies should stop fearing death. And if they can do this, then death will effectively lose its power over people:
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
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