‘Death is Nothing at All’ by Henry Scott Holland is a six stanza poem that is separated into varying length stanzas. The most unusual stanza is the one that comes at the end. It is stretched out into two more phrase-like sentences that conclude the poem.
The poet has chosen to have his main character speak through the first person, omniscient, narrative perspective in an effort to make the poem and its message more personal. The perspective allows the reader to take a closer look, and feel more invested in the speaker’s situation. Perhaps it will also allow the reader to apply the words of the poet to their own life.
Summary of Death is Nothing at All
The poem begins with the speaker stating that death means nothing. It causes no real separation between the deceased and those who are left behind. It becomes clear that the speaker is in fact dead and that he is using this poem to tell one particular person who is missing him, that she/he should not be. The two of them are still the same to one another as they were before. Nothing has changed in their relationship or the memories they shared.
The poem concludes with the speaker informing his listener that when the time comes he will be waiting to meet her/him on the other side and they will be together with Christ. Everyone will then be happier and at peace.
Analysis of Deaths Nothing at All
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
The poem begins with the speaker repeating the line which became the title of this piece, “Death is nothing at all.” This repetition emphasizes the fact that this mantra is not something to be said and then forgotten, but a much larger theme that will last throughout the poem’s entirety. As a reader, it is important to refer back to this line as one follows the stanzas through to the end.
In the first lines of the first stanza, the speaker describes how “death” has done nothing to his relationship with an unknown, unnamed person. This person is never given more description than that of a significant figure in the speaker’s life. The second line provides the reader with a bit of a surprise as it turns out that it is the speaker who has died rather than their listener.
The speaker states that he has not gone far, he has only moved into the “next room,” and their relationship remains the same. They are still the same people, and they still mean the same things to one another.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
The second stanza continues the speaker’s claim that nothing has really changed between the two. He asks his listener to “Call [him] by [his] old familiar name.” He does not wish to be treated, or thought of, any differently because he is now dead. Additionally, he wants everyone, especially this person who means so much to him, to speak “in the easy way.” There should be nothing stressful or strange about the way they now communicate. His listener might be inclined to “solemnity” or perhaps “sorrow” but he does not want this to be the case.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
The speaker takes the third stanza to remind his listener of all the pleasant times they’ve had in the past. He wants to make sure that he/she remembers when “we always laughed” and what “little jokes” they had together.
There is nothing depressing about this speaker’s outlook on death. He sees it as being a simple change from one place to another that should not impact the world that he inhabits with his listener. He asks that he be prayed for and that his name “be ever” a word of the “household.” There should be no change in the way the listener speaks to others about him.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
It becomes clear by the fifth stanza that the speaker is very sure in his beliefs. He begins to repeat the same ideas over and over again, one on top of the other, in an effort to make sure that his listener has no doubt in his/her mind about how he wants to be remembered.
He sees the time after he has died as being an “absolute unbroken continuity.” Death is so meaningless to him that no one should even notice when he is gone. The speaker sees any change in the world without him as being absurd. “Why” he asks, should he be forgotten or forced out of his listener’s mind? This, he thinks, is the wrong way to deal with death.
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
In the second to last stanza of the poem, the speaker takes a turn from the repetitive notions which he has been explaining to his listener. He tells her/him that he is “waiting.” He is somewhere quite close by, as close as “Just around the corner.”
In a separate line, the speaker states that “All is well.” There is nothing that his listener or anyone impacted by his death should be worried or saddened about.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.
In the final stanza, which is formatted differently from those which proceeded it. Although it appears different, the sentiments are the same. The speaker explains that nothing in the universe is either “past” or “lost.” Everything exists on the same plane, and on this plane is Christ.
In one last plea to the speaker, and attempt to alleviate general sadness, he reminds everyone that after a brief interlude everything will be even better than it is now. Everyone will be “infinitely happier” and together “forever.”