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John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet X” Essay

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Updated: Nov 30th, 2021

Death, Be Not Proud” has been written by John Donne and it is a sonnet. The poem has the form of a Petrarchan sonnet and was originally named as “Holy Sonnet X”. The sonnet is made up of 14 lines. There is one 8-line stanza. This is called the octave. There is also one 6-line stanza. This is sestet. The text has a overriding assonance system, which is ABBA ABBA CDDC EE.

Migh – ty | and dread- | ful, for | thou art | not so”
For those | whom thou | thin – k’st | thou dost | o – ver- | throw, (Donne, 1).

This sonnet is among the most adored poems of English Literature mainly because of its theme. By reading the poem we are given a message of hope by the poem through his eloquent language. Donne tries to tell us that death should not be proud of itself since man never dies but leaves his earthly body to live eternally in the heavens.

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die” (Donne, 1).

Donne further tells us that even though some people think that death is strong and dominant, it is not so. Sleep can also be stimulated from beginning to end in form of poppy seeds and by using images and these are even enhanced than death itself.

And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke” (Donne, 1).

The poet confirms that death is “Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so” (Donne, 1). Donne refers to a world of privacy and solitude when it comes to the existence of the death. The poet states that there is a completely separate world of the death absolutely detached from the usual world of trade and commerce and other such definitive arithmetical approaches based on profit and loss scenario. The world of the death is a distinctly different world and the subsistence of this world lies within the parameters of the deaths’ concept of existence but reminds us that death is eternal “And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell” (Donne, 1).

The overall concept or formulation of the poem indicates the transaction of life into death where death can be personified quite well. Here death seems to accompany him to the eternity in the last stanza however the journey into eternity is more of an assumption that belief.

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie” (Donne, 1).

However, at this point of the poem the vocabulary and sentences along with the concept becomes a bit obscure as the abstract language along with the imageries becomes a contrast with the previous stanzas. While reading this poem of Donne as with most of his works we cannot fail to notice the sense of exclusion that the poet evokes to his reader. He we find him instrumented though the predominant theme of the death is philosophically juxtaposed with humor but the main force of the poem is its underlying current of death and decay. This death and decay is instrumented enough to yield affirmation from the loss by means of any and every bizarre logical means. The poet is almost at the verge of saintly aloofness but recovers with quick reasoning, though witty and resourceful, to state the least.

For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me” (Donne, 1).

A single statement or occurrence can be visualized or interpreted differently in accordance to the belief, theory or school of an individual. As because two different schools of thoughts or interpretations are different from each other it is definitive to state that the application of psychology or psycho analysis would reveal two different outcomes contracting with each other. Personal perception of an individual and his view of the world around reflect the mode of communication and action. Here, it should be noticed that the description of the actual incident and more so the prelude to in the manner of portraying the nature of the local environment at that point of time evokes a sense of mystery itself but the writer predominantly made it a point to turn this apparently narration into a supernatural element. This specific element is the peripheral outlook of the whole novel and it zeros in on the point where the basic perception of the reader is focused on the achieving additional impulse from the poem that is at the same time uncanny and supernatural. But the poet never surrenders to death and speaks,

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow” (Donne, 1).

Donne talks about death as if it was a person and thus, uses personification and metaphors throughout the sonnet. This structure of treatment of comprehensive images is known as conceit. Firstly, he says that death should not feel proud or mighty,

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee” (Donne, 1).

Then he says that death is only a slave to the events which ends our lives, but as our soul enters eternity, death dies, but the soul lives on,

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,” (Donne, 1).

The linkage between thought and rational realism is not present as the mind envisions a distinctive set of juices which encompass random gestures, beliefs and ethical insights. But the most interesting part of this poem is the story is the perception of mind and matter and their relation to the physical world. If mind could be related to the superficial existence of a supernatural peripheral then the matter represents the hard reality of existence of survival. It is to be considered that the tension of the core focal point of the poem is not absolutely about the death as a character but the presence of a power brokering being that is unable to decide its ultimate goal beyond the perception of good and evil. This text brings to notice the different views that can arise in a human mind with regards to a mystery, a supernatural form of drama. The element of obscurity and the ‘unknown’ makes it all the more unrealistic and one should guess by now that this indeed is the essence of the text.

In this English Renaissance era metaphysical poets like John Donne introduced a metaphorical style of poetry, which heights ingenuity and daring complexity. This inconsistent style was often used in poetries in this era. The poetries of composite emotional attitude as well as the simple enticements of admiration used this metaphorical style and this poem reflects the ideology of the era.

Work cited

Donne, John. . Classiclit. 2008. classiclit.about.com.

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