Death is a natural part of life. It’s a reality we all have to deal with. And for some of us, it’s scarier than others. But the poet John Donne thinks otherwise. Through his poem “Death, be not proud”, he shows us why we need not dread being dead. Read on to find out why:
We’re gonna go 2 verses at a time. For each couplet (2 verses), I’ll simplify and talk about the meaning it could convey. This way, it’ll be easier to understand and more effective.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
Death will scare you if you let it. It’s all mental. You’re making it seem bigger than it is, therefore it becomes as such.
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
Maybe death isn’t something permanent. Maybe there’s an afterlife. Maybe we are reborn as new beings (Law of Conservation of Energy?). Beyond this, “kill me” here could be in spirit: if you don’t let your spirit be shaken by the idea of death, it cannot ‘kill’ it.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
Death is nothing but a form of rest or sleep. And don’t you just love sleeping and chilling? Now these things are short. But since death is like the ultimate form, it must give much more pleasure!
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
The best of people tend to go first. The good souls, your loved ones, your pets, etc. But these people/animals, who may have lived hard lives and/or done a lot of good, finally get to rest. Their souls get delivered from earthly suffering.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
Death’s not as great as you think it is. It relies on destiny and chance and the will of rulers & lawmakers (capital punishment). Not to mention the whims of men at the end of their will power. It does not have power of its own. It is a slave to these forces.
It is also not awe-worthy. It comes from things like poison and the senseless violence of men. Not to forget illnesses and ailments.
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
Drugs like opium can do the work of death just as well, if not better. There is no reason to glorify death given this fact.
We could understand this in two ways: 1. Drugs do a better job of putting the senses to sleep. Plus they give pleasure. 2. Drugs damage us just like death does, though there is the illusion of pleasure.
Also, when substances that are considered ‘lowly’ by many can perform the task of death better, why should we hold it in such high regard?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Even the mighty Death can die. Isn’t it funny how Death can succumb to what it dishes out? This is a reference to a common religious belief – that of the afterlife.
By going through this small experience of death, we can achieve eternal life (and perhaps happiness). So what is a little pain and rest given by death in comparison? We have better things to look forward to.
And that’s a wrap! With these little insights, I’m sure death won’t look as scary anymore. You have nothing to fear but fear itself, as the saying goes.
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