Cecília Meireles

The Gates of Midnight by Cecília Meireles

The Gates of Midnight is about death. Death is a subject that is often covered by poets. This is probably because of its mysterious nature. Nobody really knows what happens when you die and so it is really left to the poet’s imagination, some poets such as Emily Dickinson choose to look death in quite a bleak way, however, in The Gates of Midnight, Meireles really paints a beautiful image of what passing away might feel like whist being realistic about the fact that when you die you leave the mortal world behind. However, she approaches the subject without being at all morbid.


Form and Tone

The Gates of Midnight is written in the free verse there are eight stanzas of varying length with the longest stanza being five lines, this is the fourth stanza. There is no rhyming pattern. The tone of the poem could be construed as melancholy as it is ostensibly about death, but in actuality it more a celebration of life and extols the virtues of passing away. Describing it as a sweet and beautiful experience.


The Gates of Midnight Analysis

First Stanza

In the first line of The Gates of Midnight, which can be read in full here, the poet mentions angels which straight away drops a big hint as to the content of the poem. Opening the gates is a thinly veiled bible reference as it is said in the bible that when you come to die that there are gates into heaven, traditionally these gates ere guarded by St. peter. It is interesting that the time midnight is used. Midnight is often known as “the witching hour” and is traditionally associated with the paranormal and the fantastic.


Second Stanza

Though this is a very short stanza there are a couple of striking things about it which are both notable firstly, the gates are described as being wheeled open. This imagery evokes an image of a more contemporary gate then the ones traditionally associated with the gates of heaven. Secondly, the use of the pronoun “we” the suggestion is that more than one person is taking this journey and the other person is you (the reader).


Third Stanza

This stanza describes the angels arriving. Their description gives them a very majestic feel. They are certainly made to feel very grandiose. The reference to their incomprehensible tongue is an interesting one. In the bible, not all the choirs of angels could speak to humans, not unlike god himself. Only certain choirs of angels possessed the power to speak to human beings and these were the ones that carried God’s messages.


Fourth Stanza

Here we see Meireles invoke nature to describe the beautiful scene. The imagery is rich in this stanza. If you examine the content she mentions trees, blossom, fruit, the moon, the sun, the rainbow, animals, and the stars. It would appear then that the entirety of the natural world is present for this event. Using images from the natural world in this way was a hallmark of the great romantic poets such as Wordsworth. All of these wonderful items from the natural world appear to blend together. They mingle with the stars. Is this the light at the end of the tunnel so often used by people to denote the last few moments before passing away?


Fifth Stanza

Here Mereiles uses a simple refrain, echoing her previous statement. Following the fullness of the previous statement, the sparseness of this stanza makes it feel empty. Giving a sense of peace and finality.


Sixth Stanza

If the previous stanza of The Gates of Midnight did not give proceedings an aura of finality then this one certainly does. It says there is no more time. This is a really interesting concept Most of our lives are dictated by the passing of time. The end of time really is an end. If time didn’t exist, nor would aging. In many ways, time is synonymous with life and so the ending of one would coincide with the ending of the other. The final line of this stanza says this is the last vision So seeing all of nature’s splendid beauty is the last thing a person sees before their life ends


Seventh Stanza

In this stanza, the narrator talks about hands being lifted for goodbye. The choice of words is very deliberate here. Being lifted denotes ascending, as in moving towards the heavens and one would lift their hands if they were to wave goodbye.

The next line talks of feet being freed from the ground. This line in particular is quite interesting. The idea of being freed from the ground suggests that this life is a draining experience, a hardship. This is a theme of many regions to some extent but none more so then eastern religions that believe that this life is a cruel test. The reason this is interesting is that up until this point the end of life has been described using tropes associated with Christianity. It further praises death by saying that it is something that has been dreamed of since birth. Describing it as a flight, almost like saying heave is like a holiday from the stresses of real life.


Eighth Stanza

Once again the angels are mentioned. They are a constant presence throughout the poem and offer a sort of reassurance. As if to say there’s no need to worry as the angels are here to oversee the entire process. We would generally associate angels with protection from harm.

The final line offers a sense of ambiguity. Does this suggest that real life is just a dream and that death is the end of that dream? Does this line suggest that passing away just feels like a dream or tat from there on in it just feels like you are in a dream-like state or does this line simply mean that this entire event was just a dream itself? It is hard to say. But I think the ambiguity of this line mirrors our knowledge of death itself, nobody knows what happens when you die, so nobody can say with any degree of certainty.


About Cecília Meireles

Cecília Meireles was a Brazilian poet, who sadly passed away in 1964 at the age of 63. She was a Portuguese speaker and widely regarded as Brazil’s greatest ever female poet. (although personally disliked the term poetess due to its discriminatory nature)  Meireles often wrote poetry that was deeply personal. She wrote using a variety of forms, but her earlier work often favored structured poetry rather than free verse.

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Lee-James, a.k.a. LJ, has been a Poem Analysis team member ever since Novemer 2015, providing critical analysis of poems from the past and present. Nowadays, he helps manage the team and the website.
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