Death Be Not Proud Or Holy Sonnet X by John Donne

Important Questions

1. What type of poem is “Holy Sonnet X”?
The poem is an example of a Shakespearean sonnet written in loose iambic pentameter.

2. How does the speaker portray Death? What are the different forces that bring it on?
Death is portrayed as someone not worthy of awe, but rather of contempt. According to line nine and ten, death can only take action when brought on by fate, chance, kings, desperate men, poison, war, and sickness.

3. Why does Donne say that those who Death thinks he kills, “die not”?
The speaker believes that death is a pause in life, and so those who die are only waiting to awake to eternal life. Therefore, death should not be proud.

4. Explain the significance of the caesurae in the poem’s final line.
Ans. The use of a semicolon between “more” and “death” suggests that death is nothing but a pause for the dying. The comma after “death” suggests that death is the victim of dying, not the person. For once someone dies, death can no longer live for that person.

5. By addressing Death, Donne’s poem is an example of what literary device?
Ans. The addressing of an inanimate, abstract, or non-present being is known as apostrophe.

Summary of the Poem

‘Death Be Not Proud” is one of the nineteen Holy Sonnets written by the great metaphysical poet John Donne. As a typical product of Renaissance, Donne wrote a kind of love and religious poetry that shocked its readers into attention with its wit, conceits, far fetched imagery, erudition complexity, colloquial and dramatic styles. Donne’s poetry exemplifies the rare synthesis of reason and passion – a unique quality which is termed as the “Unified Sensibility.”

This poem forcefully demolishes the popular conception of death as a powerful tyrant. The poet presents an unconventional view of death. By addressing the poem to death, Donne says that Death should not feel proud of itself. Death is neither frightening nor powerful although some people have called it so. It has no power over the soul which is immortal. The poet explains his idea through the examples of rest and sleep. He says that rest and sleep are only the pictures of death. We derive pleasure from rest and sleep. So death itself should provide much more pleasure, which is the real thing. Secondly, our best men get death very soon. Their bones get rest and their soul gets freedom. Hence death is not a frightening thing.

Now the poet blasts the popular belief that death is all-powerful. Death, in fact, is a captive, a slave to the power of fate, chance, cruel kings and bad men. It lives in the bad company of poison, war and sickness. Opium and other narcotics are as effective as death in inducing us to sleep. They, actually, make us sleep better. Death cannot operate at its own level. So death should not feel proud of its powers.

In the end, the poet once again says that death is a kind of sleep, after which the soul will wake up to live forever and becomes immortal. Then death has no power over us. In other words, the soul conquers death; it is the death which itself dies. Thus Donne degrades death and declares happily the impotence of death. It is, in no way, powerful and dreadful. So we should not fear death as it has no power over our souls.

Explain with reference to the Context:

Stanza – 1

Death not be……………………. thou kill me

Reference to Context:-

The lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘Death Bo Not Proud; written by John Donne. In these lines, the poet says that Death is neither terrible nor powerful. It has no effect on the soul of a person. So death should not feel proud of its power. These are the opening lines of the sonnet.

Explanation:-

The opening of the poem a highly rhetorical and declamatory. Here the poet personifies the death. He says that death should not feel proud. Although some people have called it powerful and fearful, yet in actual it is not so. Those people whom death thinks to have killed, do not actually die. Their souls become immortal. Death does not have the power to kill the poet either. In other words, death has no effect and power over the soul. Donne considers death as a poor thing, not a mighty one. By calling death ‘poor’, the poet pities death for its powerlessness and vulnerability.

Stanza – 2.

From rest and sleep ………………soul’s delivery.

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from the poem ‘Death Bo Not Proud; written by John Donne. In this poem, the poet says that Death is neither powerful nor fearful. It has no power over the soul. So it should not be proud of itself. The poet equates death to sleep.

Explanation:-

In this stanza, the poet says that death is not frightening. The poet attempts to provide us with the reasoning for his argument. If we derive pleasure from rest and sleep, which are only copies or pale imitations of death, we must derive even greater pleasure from death itself, which is the real thing. Moreover, the poet says that those people die young whom God loves most. Death can kill only the bodies of persons and not the souls. After death the bones get rest and souls become free and immortal. Death actually gives rest to our bodies and release to our soul. It actually gives birth to the soul which earlier was encaged in our body. So death is not fearful and terrible. Stanza – 3

Thou are slave……………. thou shalt die

Reference to Context:-

These lines quoted above have been taken from John Donne’s poem ‘Death Be Not Proud. In these lines, the poet says than man should not be fearful of death as it has no power over the soul. Sleep and rest, which are only images and pictures of death, give us a lot of pleasure. These are the closing lines of the sonnet.

Explanation:-

In these lines the poet blasts the popular belief that that death is all-powerful. Death, in fact, is a captive or slave to power of fate, chance, cruel kings and bad men. Opium and other narcotics are as effective as death in inducing us to sleep. They, actually, make our sleep better. Death cannot operate at its own level; it has to seek the help of poison, war and sickness to show its efficacy in which are company death lives. Death is only kind of short sleep, after which the soul will wake up to live forever. Moreover, the soul conquers death. It is the death which itself dies because death has no power over the soul of a person. In a way, Donne degrades death and declares as happily the impotence of death.

Question-Answer (Short Type)

Q.1. Comment on the opening of the sonnet ‘Death Be Not Proud’.

Ans.: In the opening lines of the poem, Donne addresses the Death and asks it not to feel proud. Some people have called death powerful and frightening yet actually, it is not so. Donne considers death as a poor thing, not a mighty one. The people, whom death thinks to have killed, do not actually die. Rather their souls become immortal which will wake up to live forever. In this way, the soul is more powerful and conquers death. The poet says that death cannot kill even him.

Q.2. What, according to the poet, are the agents of death?

Ans.: The poet says that poison, war and sickness are the agents of death. Death lives in their bad company. Death has to seek the help of these bad agents to kill a person. Death, in fact, is a slave to the power of fate, chance, cruel kings and bad men. Opium and other narcotics are as effective as death in inducing us to sleep. They, actually, make us sleep better. Death cannot operate at its own level. That’s why death is not powerful and dreadful.

Q.3. What does the image of ‘slave’ suggest?

Ans.: John Donne says that death is a captive or slave to the power of fate, chance, kings and bad men. This slave image of death suggests that death is not powerful. It is not independent and cannot operate at its own level. It only carries out the orders of fate and chance and kills others. It has to take the help of poison, war and sickness to show its efficacy.

Q.4. Explain the following expressions: (i) ‘Soul’s delivery’ (ii) death, thou shalt die.

Ans.: (i) ‘Soul’s delivery’:- By soul’s delivery the poet wants to convey that death is not frightening or dreadful. After death, our souls become free and immortal.

(ii) Death, thou shalt die:- The poet asserts that death is not almighty and dreadful because it has no power over the soul. It can kill only our bodies. After the death, our bones get rest and our soul gets freedom. The soul wakes up eternally and becomes immortal. In other words, the soul conquers death; it is the death which itself dies because it can not destroy our soul. The powerful soul is, in this way, beyond the clutches of the poor death. So the poet pities death for its powerlessness and vulnerability.

Question-Answer (Essay Type)

Q.1. What conclusion do you derive about Donne’s religious faith from your reading of “Death Be Not Proud”?

Ans.: “Death Be Not Proud” is Sonnet No. 10 in Donne’s book Holy Sonnets. Donne is the typical product of Renaissance who has written a kind of love and religious poetry that shocks its reader into attention with its wits, conceits and far-fetched imagery. Some times his poetry becomes very difficult and obscure and can not be understood by the common reader.

This poem shows that the poet is a deeply religious person. All the religious Christians believe in the immortality of soul. In the same way, Donne, who is very much religious at heart says that Death has no power over the soul. It can kill only our bodies. After the death, the soul becomes immortal and will wake up eternally in the heaven. Rather it is the soul which conquers death. Donne considers death as poor thing, not a mighty one. By calling death ‘poor’ the poet pities death for its powerlessness and vulnerability. He says that Death is neither terrible nor powerful. Death is only a form of rest and sleep which gives us much more pleasure. Again the poet describes death as a slave of fate, chance, kings and bad men. It lives in the bad company of poison, war and sickness. It cannot operate at its own level; it has to seek the help of its agents like poison, war and fate to finish a person. In other words, it is not independent. It is powerless and should not feel proud in killing a person. It is the death which itself dies. In this way, Donne degrades death and declares happily the impotence of death and this poem shows the deeply religious nature of the poet.

Q.2. Do you agree with Donne that Death is nothing but ‘poor death’?

Ans.: Yes, we fully agree with Donne that death is nothing but poor death. In this poem, the poet forcefully demolishes the popular conception of death as a powerful tyrant. It does so by developing the argument that death is as temporary as sleep. Generally, people believe that death is terrible and powerful. But the poet defies the authority of death. The boldness of the argument becomes obvious when Donne calls death ‘poor’ because it is merely a slave of fate, chance, kings and bad men. Death cannot operate at its own level. It has to seek the help of poison, war and sickness to kill a person. Again he compares death to sleep. He says that rest and sleep are only the pictures of death. They give us a lot of pleasure. So death itself should give much more pleasure. Opium and other narcotics are as effective as a death in inducing us to sleep. They, actually make us sleep better. Moreover, our best men die soon. After the death their bodies get rest and their soul becomes free. It has no power over the soul. It can kill the bodies and not the soul. Death, for Donne, is nothing more than a door through which our soul has to pass to lead an eternal life. The poem thus celebrates soul’s immortality and death’s mortality. The soul conquers the death; it is the death which itself dies. The poem shocks the reader, to begin with but finally convinces with the idea of death as insignificant nothing.

Death Be Not Proud – Summary and Solved Questions

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