John Donne: Poems

A close reading of John Donne’s Holy Sonnet X, ‘Death be not proud' College

The critic Joe Nutt writes that ‘it takes a bold man to taunt death’[1]. This observation was made in reference to John Donne’s Holy Sonnet X, ‘Death be not proud’, and accurately portrays both the tone and subject of the poem. Throughout the sonnet, Donne consistently mocks, debilitates and deconstructs a personified Death, littering the poem with Christian theology and overtly combative rhetoric. Through the sonnet Donne leaves the reader with two conclusive ideas: firstly, that the individual can, and most likely should, face Death with a composed and confident character; and second, that this can be achieved by altering our definitive perception of death.

The persona that Donne adopts for the poem is one which clearly holds bold, confident and witty characteristics, maintaining both showmanship and stoicism to dissect the idea of death. Through ridiculing the apostrophized Death, Donne presents a state of mentality that can only be admired for its bravado and assertiveness. The first two lines of the poem, ‘Death be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful, for, thou are not so’,[2] provides the clear delivery of a taunting tone. The speaker challenges Death’s own perception of itself, connecting it to...

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