"Death Be Not Proud"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: This quotation is from one of Donne's "Holy Sonnets," which appeared in 1633. It used to be taken for granted that the cynical and amorous poems were the work of his early years, while the religious ones were the product of the Dean of St. Paul's. Modern criticism is not so certain that this view is correct. In any case, the sonnet is a defiance of Death, in which the grim figure is told that he is not as powerful as he might seem. Man derives "much pleasure" from sleep, which is Death's "picture"; Death is slave to "Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men." Even "poppy or charms" can bring us as pleasant a sleep as can Death himself. But above all, when we have finally died, there is but a moment of sleep, and then the good man awakens into eternal happiness. Thus, Death is not to be feared. The sonnet opens and closes as follows:

Death, be not proud, though some have callèd 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.
. . .
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die!