(sub)Text: Mortal Pretensions in John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” (Holy Sonnet 10)

A recusant Catholic turned Protestant, a rake turned priest, a scholar, lawyer, politician, soldier, secretary, sermonizer, and of course, a poet— John Donne’s biography contains so many scuttled identities and discrete lives, perhaps its no wonder that his great subjects were mortality and death. His Holy Sonnets, likely composed between 1609 and 1610, and published posthumously in 1633, are a collection of 19 poems written after the sea change in Donne’s subject matter from the secular to the sacred. They reflect his anxiety over his conversion to Anglicanism and his eventual decision to enter the priesthood, and meditate on salvation, death, and the wages of sin. Erin & Wes discuss Sonnet 10 in this series, “Death Be Not Proud,” an address of Death personified, whose power gradually diminishes beneath the force of Donne’s dazzling poetic rhetoric.

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