Sonnet 10: Death, Be Not Proud
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so, For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow, Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery. Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell; And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
A mixture of the Petrarchan and Elizabethan forms, Sonnet 10 is structured with an abba, abba, cddc, ee rhyme scheme. Each of the first two quatrains consists of a single sentence that apostrophizes Death, and the concluding sestet shapes itself as a four-line question followed by a succinct though paradoxical answer in the concluding couplet to the central issue of the poem: Death should not be proud, because it, like human beings, “shalt die.” The poem is argumentative in tone, with the speaker attempting to humble Death partly in an effort to quell his own fears that he will physically die but partly to assert his spiritual faith that a greater eternal life makes a physical death ultimately insignificant. Ironically, in his argument that Death should not be proud, the speaker himself becomes rather arrogant, for in putting Death “in its place” he, the speaker, feels stronger and less fearful.
The first quatrain introduces the central metaphor of personifying Death as “mighty and dreadful” only to dismiss these qualities with a quick “for thou art not so” and the condescending adjective “poor,” as if Death simply does not understand how really unimportant it is in the grand scheme of God’s plans. The rhyme of “thee” and “me” establishes...
(The entire section is 657 words.)