Donne on Death

Posted by Barry Creamer

In other places I have mentioned that I favor John Donne among all Seventeenth Century poetsmore sophisticated and subtle than even slightly later luminaries like John Milton. His Tenth Holy or Divine Sonnet is one of his most famous, mainly for its first line.

Regarding the content: I intend only to remind believers that the defeat of death through eternal life is a basic tenet of Christs message, of scripture, and of the early church. For wounded friends and relatives who pass it off as part of a pie-in-the-sky future, Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb. For those inclined to reduce it to metaphor, Jesus Himself rose from the tomb glorified. To the extent that our message ignores eternal life it wanders from the good news.

Regarding the form: poetry is best read out loud. To appreciate the sound and grasp the meaning, dont be sing-song, dont pause at line ends, and do follow the punctuation. In other words, read the sentences, not the lines. Where the spelling and grammar is odd, go by the natural sound.

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou thinkst, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
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,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swellst thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

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