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Death, Be Not Proud

by John Donne
by

Maddy Eissler

on 27 November 2012

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Transcript of Death, Be Not Proud

by John Donne Death Be Not Proud Salvation Imagery Demeaning Death Punctuation Capitalization Christian Subtext In the Christian religion, Death has no power because Christ defeated Death by dying and rising again to new and eternal life. A true believer of this salvation knows that "one short sleep past, we wake eternally" (13). Death is but an inevitable vehicle that serves to transport us from our temporal reality to the metaphysical eternity that was won by Christ's death. Once we die and earn eternal life, Death no longer has a purpose, not even at the hands of Fate, Chance, kings, or desperate men, its masters. Fate has been decided and, thus, chance is irrelevant. The only King in God's Kingdom is Christ and He obliterated Death. Desperate men will not exist in eternal life because there will be eternal peace and happiness. Once life on Earth has ended, Death "shalt die" and "be no more" because it will no longer serve any purpose. Donne intends us to realize that the inevitability of Death and its fulfillment of Christ's promise of eternal life renders Death powerless to eternal life. Thus, we should not fear Death.
DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee, 5
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell, 10
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die. Rhyme Scheme
ABBA ABBA CDDC AE Petrarchan Sonnet There is a slight deviation from the normal Petrarchan pattern in the ending couplet, which is normally ee. Donne specifically reverts back to the beginning rhyme to complete his circle of thought. The thoughts he presents in the beginning of the poem seem paradoxical yet, by the end of the poem, they make perfect sense. To emphasize his earlier points, Donne refers us to the beginning stanza of the poem, almost inviting us to reread the entire poem in light of his revelations.
This tactic is similar to how the Bible should be read: the Old Testament is read in light of the New Testament and vice versa. At this point in his life, Donne was heavily involved with and influenced by his faith, found in the pages of the Old and New Testament alike. Poem Summary Lines 1-4
Donne begins his attack on Death's fearsome image immediately. Almost tauntingly, Donne asserts that Death cannot be proud or powerful because Death does not actually kill nor does it end life. Lines 5-8 Donne compares Death with 'pleasureable' sleep, leading men to rest for their bodies and souls. Death is actually doing everyone a favor, not harm. Lines 9-12 Donne further demeans Death by claiming that it is a slave to the whims and actions of humans, dwelling amongst poison, war, and sickness. Death resides amongst unpleasantness, so, in essence, Death is what suffers. Donne again compares Death to seemingly harmless things, claiming that their powers are equivalent to those of Death. Lines 13-14 Once man dies and wakes to eternal life, Death will die and cease to be. Conceit - an extended metaphor The entire poem is an extended metaphor for the Christian afterlife. Death is capitalized = Donne is addressing Death as a person (apostrophe)
By addressing Death and thereby personifying Death, Donne transforms an abstract occurrence (death) into an opposing and beatable enemy.
"be not proud" (1)
"thou art not so... mighty and dreadful" (2)
"poor death" (4)
"thou art slave" (9)
"dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell" (10) If Death can and will be conquered, then Death does not merit the fear or notoriety that its reputation elicits. Having been struck from its high pedestal, Death falls greatly and is to be pitied. Its rapid decline from master of life to slave of man is drastic and is the result of a shift in perception of man.
Death is slave to:
Fate - The powers that be decide when and how someone dies, not Death
Chance - Accidents that are unplanned occur because of outside circumstances, not because Death wills these instances
Kings - Monarchs have power over death because they sentence people to death in the name of justice. Rulers also start wars which result in many casualties.
Human kings are not the only ones to have power over Death. Jesus, King of Heaven and Earth, defeated Death by dying and rising to Eternal Life.
Desperate men - Those who take their own lives choose Death and Death must aid these people in suicide. Death dwells with "poison, war, and sickness" (10). Essentially, Death suffers because it resides with unpleasantness whilst providing its victims with "much pleasure" (6). Comparing Death Death is compared with:
"rest and sleep" (5)
"poppy or charms" (11) Death provides an invaluable service to man because, like sleep, which is but an image of death, it affords "much pleasure" and once man dies, the sooner he rests in peace in both body and soul. Yet, Death's power is considered equal with the effects of "poppies" and "charms," both of which are harmless (11). Death's services are again demeaned, robbing Death of its fearsome image. Donne ranks Death amongst harmless things, again emphasizing that it is not to be feared. Donne also demeans Death by pointing out that it serves all men, regardless of rank, servant, slave, and king alike. Death has been defeated by Christ. Irony It is remarkably ironic that Death should become a beatable opponent, because, in the end, Death overtakes every human being. It is inescapable. It is also ironic that even Death cannot cheat Death and will eventually die as well.
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