Who Was Donnes's audience in Death, Be Not Proud?

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huntress eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Death, Be Not Proud," John Donne addresses the personified Death himself. 

This is after Donne abandoned erotic, shamelessly skirt-chasing poetry such as "The Flea" and converted to the Anglican church, at which time his poetry explored theological questions and concerns. In this poem, he addresses Death as though Death were a persona, saying immediately that he doesn't think Death is "mighty and dreadful" at all (2). In his opinion--informed by his religious beliefs--those who death "overthrows" don't actually die. 

Men, he goes on, even have some "practice" in Death, in that they rest and sleep, which "but thy pictures be." In other words, they are just a small sample of the final "rest" to come, and men rise from rest and sleep, after all. 

He mocks the specre, then: "Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, / And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell." In other words, you (Death) don't even make the rules, you don't get to decide who goes with you. You yourself are a slave to chance and fate (so how can you be proud?). 

Finally, he says, "One short sleep past, we wake eternally / And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die." In short, what you think is death is just a nap to us, because our souls will rise and live forever, and when that happens, Death--you, Death--will die yourself, because there will be no more death.