Study Guide

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10) Mortality

By John Donne

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The poem takes an assertive stand against mortality. It makes the paradoxical statement that mortality is itself mortal. In other words, death doesn’t exist in the long run. But, the speaker wouldn’t make this argument if he doesn’t fear that maybe death is the end. As readers, we must decide whether the poem’s boldness masks some very deep terror about the "void" on the other side of life. After all, is it really possible to talk oneself out of this fear? And, if not, what’s the point of writing the poem?

Questions About Mortality

  1. Is the speaker talking to himself, to Death, or both?
  2. How many different meanings or uses for the words "death," "die," and "kill" does the poem have? How do these uses create paradoxes and contradictions?
  3. Why does the speaker think that Death will be like sleep? Does he have any reason to think that it will bring pleasure? Is it appropriate for a religious man to compare death to a physical pleasure?
  4. Is it true that good and brave people fear death less than the rest of us?

Chew on This

The speaker’s attempt to intimidate Death fails, because the only thing that can defeat death is Death itself.

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