Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)
by John Donne
Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10) Mortality Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (line)
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so; (lines 1-2)
Death is personified, or treated like a person, throughout the entire poem. The phrase "some who called thee" is also classic understatement. We’re like, some? Pretty much everyone fears death, but "some" sounds like only a handful of people. And, "mighty and dreadful" are adjectives you might apply to a medieval king. The speaker not only attacks death’s power in the afterlife, but on earth as well.
For those whom you think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, no yet canst thou kill me. (lines 3-4)
Again, the language of kings and the monarchy appears with the word "overthrow." Usually, you "overthrow" kings during a war or rebellion, but, here, Donne uses the word in the context of a normal person’s death. Also, the poem introduces its wittiest trick in these lines: the symbolic use of the word "die." On a literal level, of course, everyone dies. But, in the long run, it’s a different story – particularly from the perspective of a Christian believer.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow. (lines 5-6)
Rest and sleep are pale imitations of death. They are like cheap paintings from an art fair. At the same time, the speaker really hopes that death is similar to sleep, if much, much stronger. Which leads us to wonder: will we still have dreams when we die?