Death, be not proud Questions and Answers
by John Donne

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What is the theme of the poem "Death be not Proud" by John Donne?

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Julianne Hansen, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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An additional theme to add to the other response is the power to face death with a steadfast courage. When most consider death, it is with a trepidation of the unknown. Yet this speaker shows no such fear:

...some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so

Death is the end of all that we know in this world. So for the speaker to be able to look at this uncertainty and declare that Death has no real power and is neither "mighty" nor "dreadful" shows courageous tenacity. The speaker goes on to say that death "nor yet canst...kill me," his fearlessness showing a defiance of Death's claim to power.

The speaker denounces Death as a "slave," rendering its power useless under kings and even "desperate men." The speaker uses literary apostrophe to speak directly to Death, and this in itself shows a courageous spirit when compared to other voice options, such as writing about death in third person. This very direct and confrontational voice is somewhat antagonistic, ending in one final promise: "Death, thou shalt die."

Together, the voice, tone, and word choice show that the speaker is courageously certain of eventual victory over Death, leaving no room for any other possibility. There is no "unknown" to be questioned, as the speaker considers Death a mere transition from this life to one of eternal life. Thus, Death can never claim the speaker.

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The central theme of the poem "Death be not Proud" by John Donne is the powerlessness of death. According to Donne, death is but a pathway to eternal life, and as such is not something "mighty and dreadful" as some may believe it to be. Contrary to death's own conception of itself as a forbidding entity powerful enough to destroy and "overthrow," in reality it only brings the best men to a state of "much pleasure" and "soules deliverie." In essence, Donne is telling death that it has no basis for bragging and being "proud," because it is not the ominous, frightening force it would make itself out to be. The speaker's tone is almost belittling; his purpose is to cut arrogant death down to size.

Donne almost seems to poke fun at death's inflated sense of itself, telling it that, in reality, it is a "slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men." Even in its capability to bring rest it is not the best, because "poppie or charms can make us sleep as well." Death's influence is not final, nor even long-lasting; the speaker says that "one short sleep past, wee wake eternally." Death has not reason to be proud because its power is an illusion, its reign fleeting. Once it has served its purpose of transporting its victims out of earthly life, it is "no more," overcome by life which lasts eternally.

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swarnamalis | Student

The persona very directly  addresses death and speaks to him like a real person, an evil person but, who really has no power.

The speaker dismisses death as a triviality.

 Death is the slave of "Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men"; Death dwells with unsavory people ("Poison, War, and Sickness"); "poppy or charms can make us sleep as well." These negative things about death makes death look like nothing!

The speaker says that death has  no power at all and cannot " brag" or boast that he is in charge.

In Donne's poem, ' Valediction Forbidding Mourning' also death is looked upon as some thing like a sleep.

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liciagj123 | Student

Death has no power.

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epollock | Student

Donne boldly addresses death and speaks to him in dismissive terms. In the opening four lines, however, Donne offers no evidence to support his initial assertion that Death should not be proud; evidence isn’t really given until line 5, and even in lines 5–8 we get very little supporting evidence. Not until the sestet do we get a list of reasons: Death is the slave of "Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men"; Death dwells with unsavory people ("Poison, War, and Sickness"); "poppy or charms can make us sleep as well."

And then, picking up the word "sleep" from line 12, Donne goes on to contrast the "short sleep" of Death (13) with our eternal awakening. He thus ends triumphantly, "Death, thou shalt die," but in fact he has moved from reasoning to the assertion of faith. That is, the reasons he offers as evidence of death’s unimportance really do not in any way support the assertion that we live eternally, and it is this last assertion (if it is true) that most emphatically diminishes death, and this reveals his theme: our faith in an eternal existence makes death meaningless.

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