Donne’s Poem Death Be Not Proud

Donne’s Poem Death Be Not Proud

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Donne’s Poem Death Be Not Proud


In the poem "Death Be Not Proud," written by John Donne death is personified.   The personification of death creates a feeling that death is less powerful than we think.  Donne creates and image of death that is not mysterious, not in control, and a slave of low status.  He does this by undermining the idea of death as bound to the rules of "fate, chance, kings, and desperate men." He insists that death is no more powerful than any mortal is.   Suggesting that death is not mysterious is the word slave.  Directed to death, "thou art slave" forms an unthreatening stance of death because slaves are not threatening.  This is due to the connections that go with the word slave.  A slave is bound in submission to a master therefore having no say in what he or she can do.  Death, in being personified into a slave that has many masters, is more extremely bound.  This lack of freedom that death has in choosing its victims takes away any reason to be fearful of it.  Power comes from being able to control something.  Here death is the one being controlled by other outside forces that have power over how and when death can do its work.


Death casts fear into mortals because it is unknown as to what happens in the afterworld.  This poem creates a sense that we know who death is.  For example we can see how death is a poor beggar on the street.  This would make death a non-threatening person.  He is a low class citizen that is just waiting for an opportunity to feast when his master allows.  Donne produces this low-life death figure by associating him with "poison, war, and sickness."  These are all things that less fortunate mortals deal with on a daily basis.  These are dreadful things that are not good.  Death personified is subject to these horrible circumstances therefore is very low in stature.  If death can only reap his vengeance with such low standards governing him, then death is as low as what he works for. Death becomes less mysterious and something which we are not afraid of.

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It is threatening to death personified to say that he relies on something else to do his work.  Death has to play by the rules just as humans do.  In the example of death being a slave to a king is suggesting that death is less powerful than a mortal is.  If a king can order another person to death and by what means he pleases, death again is at command and is subordinate to a man.  Therefor man should not fear death because man can control death.

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