Friday, October 24, 2014

Poetry Friday: Death, Be Not Proud

Next week will be the sixth anniversary of our loss here at school of a beautiful, popular, fit, twenty-five year old teacher.  She went to bed one night and didn't wake up the next morning.  We were stunned, all of us.  That week I read this poem with my students.  My grandmother had recently died, and my brother-in-law had sent me the poem, which I had read before, but which was fresh in my mind and so appropriate for the occasion.  Since I thought Donne might be a bit much for my middle schoolers, I wrote my own paraphrase, too. 

Death, be not proud (Holy Sonnet 10)
by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are 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.

Death, don't think you're all that, even though some have said you're mighty and dreadful - you aren't. You think you're defeating those who die, but that's not the way it is, and you can't kill me, either. We get pleasure from rest and sleep, which are just imitations of you - won't we get even more pleasure when we die? As soon as good people die, they get rest for their bodies and freedom for their souls. You, Death, are a slave to many things - fate, chance, rulers, criminals. You hang out with poison, war, and sickness. If we want to sleep, we can always take Tylenol PM and get a better rest than you can give us, so what do you have to be proud about? After a short sleep, we'll wake to eternal life, and you, Death, won't even exist any more. Death: you're going to die!

This post is pretty similar to the last time I shared this poem, and at that link you can find links to the original event, including my musings about middle school and mourning.

Here is today's roundup.  


Liz Steinglass said...

Ruth, thanks for sharing both the Donne poem and your version. From now on I will always think of them together.

Tara said...

Love the defiance in both, Ruth. Although, these days, I think death does stalk proud.remeig was

Cathy said...

Finding strength and comfort on the eve of loss - and sometimes many moons later - can be a challenge. Thankfully others have found the words to shout our grief, to reach into our souls, to search for answers with wondrous words.

Thanks for sharing. So sorry for your loss.


Mary Lee said...

Hard memories can be softened with poetry, can't they?

Tabatha said...

I am happy that you chose to share this poem with your middle schoolers, and that you "translated" it for them. I was just thinking this morning about how very alive my grandparents feel to me..."those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow, Die not."

A Gift to Open, Again and Again said...

One short sleep past, we wake eternally, - is the phrase we used on my parents' gravestone.