Death, be not proud

by John Donne

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Discuss the paradox in the last two lines of John Donne's sonnet "Death, be not proud".

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In the poem, John Donne personifies death and addresses this “person,” using the poetic device called “apostrophe.” Donne throughout contrasts the mortal person and the immortal soul, using several paradoxes before arriving at the final one. He says to him that the people Death thinks he kills, he really does not; even more, Death cannot kill the speaker. Donne was a devout Catholic who later converted to Anglicanism and became an Anglican priest.

Those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

Death offers a relief through resting people’s bones: “soonest our best men with thee do go, / Rest of their bones….”

Death also should not be proud because its companions are “poison, war, and sickness.” Also, the rest that Death offers can be obtained from sleep or drugs (“poppy”).

Ultimately, the fact that “the soul’s delivery” is not in the hands of Death is the reason it should not be proud. Through faith, humans “wake eternally”; in salvation, they are past the reach of Death, which means it no longer exists: Death itself dies when people are saved.

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