Death, be Not Proud

10 October 2018

John Donne’s poem, “Death, be Not Proud” and Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” fixate on the central theme of death and how it is perceived. They were written in order to assuage fears of death. Firstly, These authors use different subjects, to whom the speaker addresses, in their poetry undermining the perception of death as superior and frightening.

Secondly, the authors utilize poetic genres which are diametrically opposed to the traditional concept of death, which is morose and gloomy. Finally, comparisons are drawn between death and lesser entities, significantly weakening the popular portrayal of death as supreme. Both writers agree that death is a humble phase in human life that should not be feared, but prepared for. Donne’s poem directly speaks to death as a person rather than an entity, as evident when he writes “Some have called [Death] / Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so”, which has a colloquial tone that lacks the deference expected when addressing superiors. Afterwards, Donne says “Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me”, once again speaking to death as an equal as opposed to a superior, and mocking it. Thomas speaks to the dying, instead of death; he says “And you, my father, there on the sad height / Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray”. His addressing of the dying directly as opposed to Donne’s indirect encouragement conveys a sense of urgency and graveness, whereas Donne’s poetry seems satirical and light-hearted.

Death, be Not Proud Essay Example

These speakers of these poems address different people in order to send the same strong message, albeit with different tones, that death is not deserving of its formidable image. Furthermore, using the sonnet and the villanelle, Donne and Thomas have managed to submerge the topic of death in irony and raise the question of whether or not the image of frightfulness given to death is justified. Donne addresses death directly, writing “Death, be not proud”, reprimanding it, as superiors do, and defining the balance of power between man and Death. The villanelle employed by Thomson inherently casts a light, cheerful tone on the poem, contrasting the traditional concept of death. The first and third lines in a villanelle are to be repeated throughout the poem, as the lines “Do not go gentle into that good night” does, emphasizing the author’s request for strength. “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” is also repeated often, and plays a similar role, encouraging the reader to resist. These two lines and their repetition are important in establishing the author’s will to the reader to fight death, as well as the poetic genre.

These genres are used to cast an ironic, demeaning shadow on the concept of death and reducing it to a weaker figure. Finally, both Donne and Thomas understand the utility of comparing two unlike things. Donne downplays the significance of death by comparing it to a prolonged sleep and a slave. He writes “From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be / Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow”, and draws the conclusion that death is only rest, which everybody enjoys, and thus, not something that humanity should dread. He buttresses this argument by writing “Thou’rt slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men”, which says that death can be manipulated by chance and fate, and people in power and desperation, degrading its authority. Thomas’ approach differs slightly; in his poem, he writes “Wise men… do not go gentle into that good night”, use also uses the examples of good men, wild men, and grave men when he compares various men to humanity and its universal response to death. This says that it is in human nature, regardless of disposition, to resist death.

He urges the reader to conform and rail against this rival. Both authors encourage the reader to adopt their views of death being feeble through these metaphors. Both authors disagree with the traditional portrayal of death as a fearful force of nature. Donne argues for an image of death as a mild, humble figure; and Thomas sees it as a challenger, against whom humanity can fight and win. These authors use metaphors to compare death with lowlier entities. Poetic forms which degrade that fearsome image of death are also used. Finally, different subjects are addressed, clearly conveying the authors’ thoughts on death.

Through reassuring and comforting poems like these, humanity learns to come to grips with the subject of death and one’s own mortality.

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