Study Guide

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10) Courage

By John Donne

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We’ve got to admit it: we’re impressed. It takes real guts and chutzpah to stand up to Death. Throughout the entire length of the poem, the speaker never once drops his guard. In fact, he grows more confident in the second half. But, is it courage or delusion? Maybe real courage is to accept that death is the end of life as we know it, and anything that comes after that is a mystery.

Questions About Courage

  1. Does the speaker’s courage come off as sincere, or is it just an act? Does he seem more or less courageous by the end of the poem?
  2. How would you explain the line: "And soonest our best men with thee do go?" What kind of men does he talk about?
  3. Is it still courageous if the speaker has no choice but to face Death? Can words express courage, or only actions?
  4. How does the expectation that death will bring pleasure complicate the speaker’s claim to courage?

Chew on This

The poem gives more evidence of bluster than of courage, as the speaker rapidly tries out a number of different arguments, none of which seem to work perfectly.

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