Professor: Walter Tete
Death be not proud
Donne is saying that Death likes to think of himself as powerful and terrifying, and indeed some people have called him that, but he is not so in truth. In the next lines Donne explains why. Death thinks that he is "overthrowing" men when he takes them that is, conquering vanquishing, defeating, ruining, causing to fall. Instead, and this here is the "Holy" conceit of the sonnet, a very Christian concept, he does not cause them to fall, but helps them to rise—death is the means by which man finds Resurrection (literally, "rising again"), eternal life and immortality through Christ in heaven. Donne is patronizing and sarcastic with "poor Death", who is so deluded as to think himself a blame on man's existence. And again, "nor yet canst thou kill me", hearkens back to the same idea that Death does not kill, but is instead the enabler of new, immortal life. Death cannot kill him, thus he holds no power over the him.
Here we have the Renaissance idea of sleep as death's image that is, death's likeness, semblance a sleeping man looks much like a dead man, and vice versa (the parallel of sleeping ‘waking and dying ‘waking is played with later in the sonnet. If man gets much pleasure out of rest and sleep, which are but copies of death, how much more pleasure then must be gotten from death. They go with Death, their bones get to rest in the grave and their souls get "delivered" set free at the same time. Being freed from the human body from the fear of death, delivered into heaven, and delivered in the sense of being born, or reborn.
Death is not mighty, but indeed is a slave, with "Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men" as his masters. The personified Death does not always have the power to choose who is to die—Fate and chance may suddenly take someone, kings on a whim may doom people to their deaths, and desperate men,...