Study Guide

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10) Religion

By John Donne


Back in Donne’s day, the smartest, funniest, hippest writers – The Metaphysical Poets – are the ones who can talk about complex religious topics while letting fly with jokes, puns, and one-liners. But, whatever happens to simple religious devotion – saying "I believe" and leaving it at that? Clearly, Donne feels that something a bit more sophisticated is necessary. The poem is more concerned with spinning out clever and complicated arguments than with reciting prayers or religious scripture. Does this take away from the religious message of the work? Or, does it make that message resonate even more?

Questions About Religion

  1. In what sense is the "sleep" of death a "short sleep" (line 13)?
  2. The poem has no overt references to Christianity. Aside from the title, how would you know that this is a religious poem? (Or, maybe it’s not...?)
  3. Is it possible for someone who is not a Christian to find Donne’s arguments persuasive? Which ones?
  4. Is there anything in the poem that can be seen as unconventional, from a religious perspective?

Chew on This

Despite its inclusion as one of Donne’s "Holy Sonnets," "Death, be not proud" is not a true religious poem until the final two lines.

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