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Death, Be Not Proud 

One of the most moving films that I have seen that deals with death and dying is Wit, from 2001, directed by Mike Nicholas, with Emma Thompson.  Based on the play of the same name by Margaret Edson, its main character is an English lecturer who finds herself facing death from cancer. It sounds more macabre than it really is.  There is a delightful cameo performance by Eileen Atkins as Emma Thompson’s character’s former professor, and a focus on John Donne’s poem, ‘Death, Be Not Proud.’

Anyone who thinks that punctuation is boring or irrelevant should pay attention to the scene in which Eileen Atkins explains how punctuation, especially of the last line, accentuates – and even alters – the meaning of the poem, and the faith of John Donne that underlies it. 

The scene in which the poem is discussed is here: 


I reproduce the poem below, suitably punctuated! 
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.

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