What literary devices are used in "Death be not Proud" by John Donne?

Expert Answers
litlady33 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The most notable literary device Donne uses in this poem is personification. Personification is when an author attributes human characteristics to non-human things. He carries personification of death throughout the poem by saying that death should not be proud because, contrary to what most people think, death does not have the ability to kill. Instead, it delivers eternal life to those it touches. At the end of the poem when he says, “Death, thou shalt die,” Donne implies death has the ability to die like people do, though we know death cannot literally die.

In this case, death is non-human, but Donne uses the literary device apostrophe to address death as if death is a person to whom Donne is writing. When he addresses death with “thou,” it is as if he is addressing death as a person (“thou” being the equivalent of “you” today).

Another literary device in this poem is a rhetorical question. In lines 11-12, Donne explains that “poppy and charms” can induce the same kind of sleep that death can, so he questions, “why swell’st thou then?” In other words, he asks death why it swells with pride at its ability to put people to sleep when other more trivial things can do the job just as well. This rhetorical question is another way for Donne to make his point that death does not have the right to be proud and that people who believe in eternal life have no reason to fear death.

Read the study guide:
John Donne's Holy Sonnets

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question