Death, be not proud

by John Donne

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What elements in John Donne's "Death, be not proud" make it a metaphysical poem?

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"Death, be not proud" is primarily a metaphysical poem because it meditates on the relationship between the body and soul and asserts that death is defeated in the afterlife.

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John Donne's Holy Sonnet 10, "Death, be not proud," is a metaphysical poem from the early seventeenth century. Metaphysical poems are typically associated with style techniques such as conceits (extended metaphors that compare especially unlike things) and structure based on argument or logic.

The word metaphysical means beyond the physical; so, for example, metaphysical questions can consider spirituality, the soul, existence, and other abstract concepts. "Death, be not proud" primarily fits the category of metaphysical poetry because of its focus on existential questions about life and death.

In the poem, Donne personifies and directly addresses Death, challenging its own self-perception. The speaker claims that Death sees itself as "mighty and dreadful," but the speaker negates Death's sense of power. In line 3, Donne first introduces the idea of an afterlife, by asserting that "those whom thou think'st thou does overthrow / Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me." While Death may be confident that it ends the lives of those it claims, Donne suggests that Death has no power over the afterlife.

After associating Death with less respected company, like "poison, war, and sickness," and undermining Death's control by instead implying that "fate, chance, kings, and desperate men" are the ones who actually hold the power to kill, Donne returns to the issue of the afterlife more explicitly. He concludes the sonnet, "One short sleep past, we wake eternally, / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die." Instead of being an all-consuming force, death is likened to a "short sleep," and one that ends. After that rest period, the "dead" awaken to eternal life.

The reflection on the body and soul and the belief that the soul continues to exist after the body ceases to live make Donne's sonnet a metaphysical poem. His main concern in the poem is the idea of a spiritual afterlife that will defeat physical, mortal death.

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