Death, be not proud by John Donne

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What is the meaning of eternity in "Death, be not proud" by John Donne?

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John Donne doesn't really address the idea of eternity directly in this poem. However, the whole poem flirts with the concept and uses it as a means of arguing that Death should not be "proud," because actually those Death encounters will never be killed by him. The reason for this is that Donne—and most other Christians of that era—believed in the idea of an eternity spent with God, which would, as it were, follow Death.

Towards the end of the sonnet, Donne expresses this by saying that it is actually Death itself which will die in the end: for the people who have died, they experience Death only as something temporary, a "short sleep." After this sleep, they will "wake eternally," having, as it were, survived death and moved beyond it into the world afterwards. Death itself may continue eternally to take people from the mortal coil, but it (or he) will always be defeated by the eternity with God which follows, and which Christians know will be coming after the short sleep of death has passed.

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John Donne's "Death, be not proud," or Holy Sonnet 10, is a poem written in the form of an Italian sonnet. It is narrated in the first person. The narrator directly addresses Death, a figure personified in the poem. The concept of eternity is mentioned in the poem's last two lines.

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

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

The key to understanding the meaning of eternity in this poem is to know that Donne, born into a Roman Catholic family, converted to Anglicanism and was, in 1615, ordained as a priest in the Church of England. This means he is writing not just as a Christian, but as a theologically knowledgeable cleric, and distinguished preacher whose sermons are still widely read. 

Donne's concept of eternity assumes the immortality of the soul. He points out that although our body dies, our souls live on eternally (either in Heaven or Hell); thus, the triumph of death is only apparent and temporary, affecting our physical rather than spiritual selves.

In Christian theology, death itself is only temporary and will no longer exist after the Last Judgement. Paradoxically, while human souls live on forever, according to Christian theology, death itself "dies" or ceases to exist permanently.

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