Death Be Not Proud, also known as Sonnet X, is one of John Donne’s holy sonnets, in which he seems to hurl defiance to Death. The poet’s own conviction of life eternal to follow upon death is at the basis of it. As a matter of fact, the poet as a staunch Christina has brooded long over death. It has been like an obsession with him. In the poem The Anniversary, the death image haunts the poet’s imagination, and he is unable to get away from the thought of death. It is being said about him that he is his own figure, wrapped in a winding sheet, placed by his bedside. It means that he could never put away the thought of death from his mind. It reveals the morbid state of the poet’s mind. The poem is not simply an abstract contemplation of death. In 1608, he was so depressed that he ever entertained the idea of suicide.
A new chapter began in the life of John Donne when he was ordained in January 1615. The poet, thereafter, threw himself, heart and soul, into his spiritual activity. Now, his own spiritual redemption was also an issue with him. As a result Death, an image of spiritual emancipation and physical bondage is the central theme. Death is an image of spiritual emancipation in the poem, as he himself writes:
“Rest of their bones, and soul’s deliveries ………….
One short sleep past, we wake eternally.”
John Donne, as a devout Christian, thinks that Death is the gateway to life eternal. However, minute analysis of the poem reveals that he can never walk away from the shadow of death. He speaks of “rest and sleep which but thy pictures be.” The keynote of the poem is, thus, the longing for rest and sleep:
“And sonnets our best men with thee do goes,
Rest of their bones and soul’s deliveries.”
The poem emphasizes Christina belief in Resurrection. Death seems to John Donne a golden key that opens the palace of eternity; Death is not the last sleep, but the last and final awakening. Those upon whom death lays his icy cold hand, die but to live again. Death cannot be final. Donne, thus, confirms the Christian idea of immortality.
The poem is written in the form of a Petrarchan sonnet. Accordingly, in the octave, the poet expresses the thought that death is not powerful because it does not kill those whom it overthrows. Volta initiates a turn in the idea by stating that death can bring only a short interval of sleep is ab, ba, ab, ba, cdd,cee.
The diction is straightforward and appealing. The use of cohesive devices such as repetition (‘and’ is repeated several times in the poem), alliterative and internal rhymes add to the artistic beauty of the poem.
The theme of the poem is about overcoming the seemingly inseparable barriers of life, death, and after-life. Death is nothing but a breath. Nothing but a breath separates life and after-life. Life, death, soul, God, past, and the present are not inseparable barriers but just a comma or a pause which is portrayed in the last line of the sonnet.
This poem is an attempt of John Donne to show his contempt for death.“Death”-that dwells all around him. Surroundings his life, killing his own family within years, and filling his own heart with fear, to this extent that that fear longs no more. When death chases someone to the extent of making one fear-free, in the next step comes contempt. According to the poet, death is of no special strength or force. If death means sleep, other things, like charms, and anaesthetic medicines can better give us sound sleep, though for a shorter period than death can what if death affects our families and good men of the world, death is nothing more, but a way that leads us towards a better life-i-e eternal life. Where death will die and it will be no more.
Ending lines of the poem “death thou shalt die” shows the poets hate and disgust for death and somewhat the satisfaction of his heart and mind. Through logic and reason, he shows his future victory over death.
The title is the main theme of the poem: that while death may “win the battle”so to speak it will ultimately lose the war. It is powerless to prevent a human memory from living on. In a broader context, the sin and death of humanity as a whole are powerless to prevent resurrection and redemption provided through Jesus Christ.