What three elements of poetry contribute to the message in the poem "Death Be Not Proud"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

John Donne's Holy Sonnet X, which has come to be called "Death Be Not Proud" because of its theme and repetition of the phrase, exhibits several elements of poetry:


First of all, since poetry has been defined as "literature in a metrical form," it is apparent that the meter and rhyme of Donne's famous verse serve well to contribute to its meaning, an attack upon the ineffectual tyrant of death.  The meter, the rhythm and rhyme are balanced and strong, underscoring Donne's assertive castigation of death.


The metaphysical conceit creates elaborately dissimilar concepts and ideas and images which startle the reader into understanding that although death comes ultimately, its effect is not as terrible as one may imagine, for death is not in control of circumstances; it is but a "slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men."  And, of course, eternal life conquers death.


Death has been personificed as the grim reaper; at other times as an angel with black wings and a net, and still other times as a fierce horseman who carries a skull.  Donne suggests these images of death with such words as "thou dost overthrow," "and soonest our best men with thee do go," and "dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell."


After suggesting the known images of death and their dangerous acts, Donne counters the fear that the personification of death connotes by stating paradoxes:

 For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthroe,

Die not, poor death, not yet canst thou kill me

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures [images] be

Strengthening his argument that death has no real power over the human soul which "wakes eternally," Donne ends with his final paradox: 

And death shall be no more. Death thou shall die.

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