Thoughts on “Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne

John Donne wrote in the 1600’s, over 400 years ago, but his themes are still pertinent to today. With poetry (as with all literature) it’s important for us to find how what the pot has said relates to us in our lives. Donne was trash talking Death, that big bad ugly force that all mankind is afraid of—and rightly so (a healthy respect for death is part of being a normal human being). But Donne had found a relationship with the God of the universe, and a relationship with Him puts Death in His place: Jesus Christ God’s Son defeated Death once and for all when He died on the cross, and for all those who have received Him as their Savior from sin, Death becomes no more than a release to greater life and rest in the presence of God. Unfortunately, those who reject the life that Christ offers will spend their eternity in the very arms of this horrible creature Death.

Here’s my paraphrase of Donne’s poem. Please feel free to add your own.

Death, don’t think you’re all that just because some people have called you big, bad, and ugly—you’re not. Just look at all your so-called victories: those you thought you defeated didn’t really die, and you can’t really defeat me, either. I enjoy what Rest and Sleep do for me; they’re just imitating you, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy the rest you’ll bring me when my time comes. In fact, the best men that have ever lived have gone with you and found freedom from life’s stresses and limitations—so much for your scary reputation! In fact, you don’t even call the shots but have to wait for some catastrophe to give you your marching orders. You might be more powerful than mankind, but you take orders from us, not the other way around. You can’t even show your face in civilized company but have to hang out with those other well-known thugs Poison, War, and Sickness. Besides, we really don’t need you to make us sleep—sleeping pills, warm milk, or boring reading can put us to sleep, too, and bring us the rest we need to help us face life, not leave it forever. What do you have to brag about? When you put us to sleep, we will wake up in eternity where you have no power over us anymore. And without your power, where are you? Death, your time too will come.