“Death be Not Proud” by John Donne Literature Analysis Essay

November 21, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Apr 29th, 2020

Introduction to the poem

The poem ‘Death be not proud’ is an attack against death and the fear of dying. The author calls individuals to take on death even though it seems to be a very strong thing. Furthermore, the author asserts that death does not cause man to stop existing; instead, death merely gives a person’s body a chance to rest. The soul continues to live on in the afterlife.

The poem was written by a seventeen year old boy called John Donne and was addressed to a friend who had passed away. The poet believes that death is inevitable so people should not be afraid if it. To the author, it was an avenue for getting into heaven where he would enjoy eternal life. The poem is metaphysical in nature because the author relies on complex images to compare death to a person.

Information about the poem

The poet was a young man who had endured so much during his short life. Doctors had diagnosed him with a brain tumor in the last fifteen months of his life. Johnny had a strong will to live and faced his troubles and tribulations quite courageously. Johnny was always an intelligent and selfless boy throughout his childhood.

However, his fate changed after he started experiencing a stiff neck. When he went back to school, the administrators recommended a medical examination that discovered the brain tumor. John went through his first operation when the specialists removed a portion of the tumor. However, the tumor transformed after some time and kept worsening. The doctors told John that it would paralyze him, cause him blindness and eventually death (Gunther 162).

John was determined to graduate from high school and join Harvard. However, his condition did not improve. He busied himself with lots of activities at home, and kept doing school work. Later on, Johnny tried mustard gas treatment and a new diet that purported to heal tumors. However, the tumor began to leak and he had to go for surgery.

The doctors carried out some procedures and allowed his release. Eventually, he got back home and continued with his school work. He even attended his high school graduation despite his dilapidating condition. Johnny eventually developed a hemorrhage in his brain and went to hospital. He died in hospital after futile attempts to save his life. The young man wrote a lot about his experiences, but one of the most heartfelt pieces is the poem under analysis.


The poem’s persona is the poet himself. He wanted to talk about his perception of death and framed the poem in a way that seemed like he was talking to death. In the fourth line of the poem, the poet says: “Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst though kill me” (Donne 4). He is, therefore, the reference point of the discussion. All the things he says about death are his opinions concerning it.

The poem takes a cynical tone (San Juan 3). The author calls death a number of names that contribute towards this effect. For instance, he says ‘Poor death’. It is almost as if the poet intended on humiliating death. He rejects the strong traits that many people use to describe death and asserts that this is a misconception. Additionally, the poet also calls death a ‘slave’ to indicate how he despises or is unafraid of death. This tone is also evident from the title of the poem, which indicates that the person in the poem scorns death.

The poem utilizes an Italian rhyme scheme that goes as follows: ABBA then ABBA then CDDC and finally EE. He has a variable meter in the poem, although one may argue that he uses the iambic pentameter, especially in the fifth to seventh lines of the poem. In these lines, the words that stand out include rest, slept, but, pic (from pictures). In the next line, the words that contribute to the meter include plea (from pleasure), then, thee, more, and flow. In the seventh line, the words that stand out are soon, our, men, thee and go.

The poem employs alliterations; in the third line, the alliteration stems from the use of ‘th’ in those, thou, thinks, and though. In the next line, the poet uses alliteration through letter ‘d’ in die and death. In the sixth line, the poet uses the letter ‘m’ in much, more, and must (Jordan 15).


In the first line, the author starts with an attacking note. He downplays death’s strengths and notes that some people call death powerful. In the second line, the author continues with his attacks by saying that it is a misconception to think that death is indeed powerful. In the third line, the author says that death may take away people’s lives, but this does not mean that it actually conquers them. In the forth line, the author adds a personal touch to his assertions by talking directly to death. He affirms that death cannot overcome him.

In the fifth line, the poet likens death to sleep so it does not lead to much difficulty or pain. In the sixth line, he explains that death actually leads to pleasure. In the seventh line, he notes that death tends to take people that are quite important to humankind. However, death has no power to carry their souls and their bones (in line eight).

In the ninth and tenth lines, the author claims that death is a servant to all end-of-life events like illness and war. In the eleventh and twelfth lines, he mocks death by comparing its effects to the same effects that charm and poppy create. Death, therefore, is not exceptional. In the thirteenth line, the poet mentions the after-life where one awakens after death. Consequently, death is not the final blow. In the last line, the author says that in the eternal life, death loses all its power and thus dies.

Analysis of metaphor, simile, personification, symbolism

The author uses a metaphor in the poem when he says that “Thou art slave to fate’. He compares death to a servant because it is not a final decision maker; it only comes when these events occur. Therefore, death has no control. The author also uses personification because in the last line he asserts: “Death, thou shalt die” (Donne 14). Additionally, in the first line, he says “Death, be not proud’ (Done 1). He is giving death qualities of a person and thus personifies it.

How I can incorporate the poem in my life

The poet wrote this poem when he was still a boy. After learning this, I realized that one can be courageous even in the most unlikely circumstances. However, the most important lesson that I have learned from the poem was that fear of death is unfounded. Since death leads to the same effects that other objects, like charms and poppy do, then one should not be afraid of it.

I have learnt to live each day as it comes, but to embrace death if it shows up. The poem has also taught me how to be open up about death. In the past, I was afraid of even mentioning this word. I thought that it would offend people, however; after seeing the level of openness that John has in confronting this difficult topic, I have realized that there is nothing to be afraid of.

Works Cited

Donne, John. “Death Be Not Proud”. Elite skills classic. 2011.

Gunther, John. Death be not proud. Chicago: Perennial Modern Classics, 1998. Print.

Jordan, Tonia. “Alliteration, consonance and assonance”. Ezine articles.

San Juan, Ray. “Glossary of poetic terms”. Tripod. 2011.

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