Language and tone in Death be not Proud


The language of Death be not Proud is striking, though the vocabulary is not unusual. As often with Donne, it is the dramatic voice and the element of surprise that gives the language its force. The voice is helped by the unusually large proportion of monosyllabic words employed, much higher than normal: eight out of nine in the first and ninth lines; ten out of ten in the final line. You can do a simple count for yourself.

Death is addressed in words totally opposite to those usually employed: ‘poor', ‘slave', 'nor yet can thou kill me'. Again, the monosyllabic precision of these simple words leaves no room for ambiguity or doubt. Donne is almost bullying death. The alliteration in l.3 brings this out well.

Investigating Death be not Proud
  • At the time that Donne was writing, silent reading was almost unheard of
  • In what tone would you read aloud Death be not Proud?
    • Try several
  • How would you make the reading as dramatic as possible?
    • What clues does Donne give that he wants a dramatic reading?
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