Poetic Forms Poetic Forms    

Lesson 14: Sonnet: Death be not Proud

by John Donne

lesson image
Death Personified

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.

    Poetic Forms Poetic Forms    

Lesson 14: Sonnet: Death be not Proud

by John Donne


Study the poem for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read the poem each day.
  • Review the synopsis.
  • Read about the poetic form.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


"Death be not Proud" is a Petrarchan sonnet written by the celebrated English poet John Donne and published in 1633. The poet personifies Death, admonishing Death not to be prideful about their limited powers. The poet even pities "poor" Death. Death must suffer the constant company of sickness and war. Death does not kill, rather Death is a slave to those who kill. Even drugs do a better job as a sleep aid than ineffective Death. Upon humanity dying and awakening to begin their immortal afterlives, Death loses all power.


Poems often adhere to specific poetic forms, defined as 'poems following distinct sets of rules.'

The nine poetic forms we'll study include the:

  1. Sijo: A lyrical Korean poetic form of three long lines.
  2. Haiku: A Japanese poem of three lines and a total of seventeen syllables.
  3. Limerick: A humorous poem of five lines and the rhyming scheme AABBA, typically having syllables of 9–9–6–6–9.
  4. Sonnet: A poetic form of fourteen lines that follow one of a few common rhyming schemes.
  5. Epitaph
  6. Acrostic
  7. Visual
  8. Ode
  9. Blank Verse

Although we'll not delve into the details, listed below are six common types of sonnets:

  1. Italian Sonnet
  2. Petrarchan Sonnet
  3. Shakespearean Sonnet
  4. Spenserian Sonnet
  5. Miltonic Sonnet
  6. Terza Rima Sonnet

Petrarchan sonnets such as 'Death be not Proud' follow the listed rules:

  1. Consist of fourteen (14) lines
  2. Have approximately 10 syllables per line
  3. Divided into an 8-line stanza and a 6-line stanza


Activity 1: Recite the Poem Title, Poet Name, and Poem

  • Each day this week, recite aloud the title of the poem, the name of the poet, and the poem.

Activity 2: Study the Poem Picture

Study the poem picture and describe how it relates to the poem.

Activity 3: Narrate the Poem

  • After reading the poem, narrate the poem events aloud using your own words.

Activity 4: Explore Personification

Personification is a literary device in which an inanimate object or an idea is given human qualities.

Read aloud the examples below and identify the object being personified.

  • The leaf danced across the yard. (Answer: The leaf is personified. Leaves have no legs and cannot dance. People have legs for dancing.)
  • The sun peeped out through the clouds.
  • The mower muttered in disgust when I tried to start it.
  • The wafting scent of apple pie crooked its finger at me, beckoning me nearer.

Activity 5: Discuss the Poem

  • Why is the figure of Death frightening to many people?
  • Do you think John Donne is right - that Death's power is limited and we should even pity Death personified?

Activity 6: Complete Book Activities   

  • Click the crayon above, and complete page 17 of 'Elementary Poetry 6: Poetic Forms.'


  1. 'Sonnet.' Wikipedia. Wikipedia.org. n.p.
  2. 'Death Be Not Proud (poem).' Wikipedia. Wikipedia.org. n.p.