“DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.”
I enjoy this poem because, to me, it shows a good amount of wit and a mind that loves to debate. Both of which can either be very annoying or very enjoyable depending on mood.
John Donne is personifying death and arguing with it, even going so far as to antagonize it. He seems to grab on to several different reasons why he thinks death is basically nothing. He introduces the idea of death then goes on the attack. He says that Death has no reason to think of itself as special or mighty because it is similar to sleeping which is an enjoyable thing to do. Also, since death is similar to sleep it is not unique.
This is an example of metaphysical conceit, which John Donne was considered a master in. Metaphysical conceit is when poets compare things that are completely unlike to make a deeper point. One of his most famous metaphysical conceits is found in A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, where separated lovers are compared to the legs of a compass.
He also says that Death is a lackey, with no real power of its own, “slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men”, living with “poison, war, and sickness” which no one really wants to live with anyway. He ends with one of the basic ideals of christianity, saying that death frees our souls to go to heaven, which is where christians are supposed to want to be anyway. Further going on to make a referrence to the bible, “Death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.”
John Donne is also noted for his style of poetic metre. Of the poets of his time, he structured his writing with a changable rhythm that was fairly close to casual speech.