Donne is a realist. He uses the devices of the opponents and throws them back at their faces: he says that he has tried and failed, and that makes it credible. The metaphor of alchemy is used as a central conceit for the poem in order to give a new twist to the conventional ideas about love and its experience. Such way of turning upside down in an unusual manner is Donne's powerful poetic strategy, which an intelligent reader can understand. For the purpose of argument, Donne uses the analogy of alchemic research and spiritual love, and then he proceeds on to attack his rival poets by drawing parallel between alchemy and platonic theory into the ground.
The second quatrain, which is closely linked to the first through the abba rhyme scheme, turns the criticism of Death as less than fearful into praise for Death’s good qualities. From Death comes “Much pleasure” (line 5) since those good souls whom Death releases from earthly suffering experience “Rest of their bones” (line 6). Donne then returns to criticizing Death for thinking too highly of itself: Death is no sovereign, but a “slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men” (line 9); this last demonstrates that there is no hierarchy in which Death is near the top. Although a desperate man can choose Death as an escape from earthly suffering, even the rest which Death offers can be achieved better by “poppy, or charms” (line 11), so even there Death has no superiority.
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