Text of the Poem

Holy Sonnet X

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. 


  1. The final line of the poem alludes to 1 Corinthians 15:26 in the Bible, which states that “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Donne means that death will ultimately be conquered because those who die move on to an eternal afterlife; therefore, it is death that dies.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. The word “swell’st” is an archaic form of the verb “to swell up,” which means to inflate or grow in size. In this context, Donne means that death should not have an inflated ego or swell with pride because it possesses no real power over humankind.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Donne summarizes the accusations he has made against death by using anaphora, or the repetition of words at the beginning of successive lines or phrases. He expands upon this list of charges by arguing that death should not be so proud, given that it is associated with the worst aspects of the human experience and cannot put people to sleep as well as certain drugs.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. Donne uses assonance, or the repetition of vowels, in the words “slave,” “fate,” “chance,” “and,” and “desperate.” Assonance is another form of repetition that imitates the cyclical, ever-repeating nature of life, death, and the afterlife. However, Donne alludes to this cyclical relationship to suggest that it is death that is a slave to life—“fate, chance, kings, and desperate men”—and not the other way around. Further, given that the afterlife follows death, it is death that actually dies.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The repetition of words containing the letter “s” in the fifth and sixth lines of the poem is an example of sibilance. Sibilance involves repeating the letter “s” in order to create a hissing sound when the words are read aloud. The words “rest,” “sleep,” “pictures,” “pleasure,” and “must” lend a musical quality to their respective lines, thus calling the reader’s attention to their meaning: Death can actually be a pleasant experience that is superior to “rest and sleep” because it delivers the souls of those who die to an eternal afterlife, making death is not as scary as it seems.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. The speaker’s declaration that “poor Death” cannot kill him is an example of situational irony, in which a reader’s expectations about a situation are subverted. Given that death is the end result of killing someone, it is ironic that Donne’s personified death is so incompetent that it cannot actually kill. As a result, situational irony enables the speaker to emphasize how nonthreatening death actually is.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. The third and fourth lines contain alliteration, or the repetition of consonants in order to call attention to rhythm, word choice, or imagery. By repeating the consonant “d” in “dost,” “Die,” and “Death,” Donne stresses the speaker’s purpose—robbing death of its intimidating qualities—while also bolstering the poem’s rhythm.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. The word “dost” is an archaic third-person singular present form of the verb “to do.” Donne refers to humanity’s widespread belief that death does kill them, though he challenges this belief in the next line.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. The entire poem features an extended apostrophe, which involves speaking to something or someone—in this case, death—who is unable to respond in the moment. Donne’s use of apostrophe creates a heightened emotional experience for the reader, who likely identifies with the idea of fearing death and would therefore appreciate the significance of a direct address that strips death of its terrifying aspects.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. Donne begins the poem by personifying death. Personification, which involves attributing human qualities to nonhumans, enables Donne to confront death as though it is an enemy to be vanquished. In this context, personifying death lessens its power over humanity.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. The first two lines of the poem are an example of enjambment, in which a statement that begins in one line flows into the next line. Enjambment establishes the poem’s rhythm and, in combination with Donne’s use of caesura, creates an assertive tone by highlighting important segments of phrases that are isolated in each line.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Donne employs caesuras in the first two lines of the poem by using commas: “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee/ Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.” A caesura is a pause within a line of poetry, typically in the form of punctuation such as a period (.), comma (,), em dash (—), or ellipses (...). In this context, dividing the phrases “Mighty and dreadful” and “for thou art not so” with a comma calls attention to the speaker’s purpose: challenging the notion that death is powerful and terrible.

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor