Lucille Clifton

The Death of Fred Clifton by Lucille Clifton

This poem is about the death of Lucille Clifton’s husband, Fred James Clifton, who passed away on 11 October 1984 at the age of 49. It evokes the spirit of Fred and describes his discovery of something new.

‘The Death of Fred Clifton’ is written by the African American poet Lucille Clifton after the death of her husband Fred James Clifton in 1984. According to Elizabeth Alexander, Clifton’s poems often showcase the conversation between the dead and the living. In this piece, readers can find the poet’s dead husband sharing his revelation about the form or shape of things. His discovery of the “real” beyond accepted definition is the crux of the poem.

The Death of Fred Clifton by Lucille Clifton


‘The Death of Fred Clifton’ by Lucille Clifton describes how a dead speaker leaves his worldly memories to his wife and explores unique spiritual experiences.

The speaker of the poem, Fred Clifton, expresses his feelings after his spirit leaves the body. To be specific, through this poem, Lucille tries to imagine what her husband might have discovered after leaving her all alone. He does not even feel depressed by the fact that he cannot be with his wife. Rather, he seems to be drawn towards another attractive force. It pulls him so deep that he can see beyond the shapes or reflections and get to the core easily.

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis

Lines 1-6

I seemed to be drawn


and I saw with the most amazing


Lucille Clifton’s ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’ is not solely about a speaker’s elegiac note on the death of a loved one. Rather, it draws some philosophical essence in order to depict the afterlife. The speaker of the poem is the spirit of Fred Clifton, the husband of the poet. He died at the age of 49 in 1984.

Lucille uses her husband’s persona to describe his out-of-the-body realization. He describes being drawn to the center of himself. It can be a metaphor for the soul. When he was alive, he could not get to the core due to external impediments. Now, having a free mind, he can easily realize its importance.

He has left his “edges” or worldly affairs to his wife, Lucille. After unburdening himself, he has clarity on life as a whole.

Lines 7-14

so that I had not eyes but



In the following lines of ‘The Death of Fred Clifton,’ the speaker presents a contrast between seeing and experiencing. For experiencing a spiritual phenomenon, one does not require physical eyes. He requires something more powerful than them.

Furthermore, he can feel the energy inside his spiritual body that continuously keeps churning like waves. What is most interesting about being dead is the insight one has about reality. Being dead, the speaker does not visualize the shapes of things. He can find the things that one craves throughout their life. It can be a reference to spiritual bliss.


Clifton’s poem ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’ is written in free-verse. It means there is no regular rhyme scheme or meter in the text. The poem is told from the perspective of the poet’s dead husband, Fred Clifton. She uses the first-person narrative technique in order to share the possible experiences of the speaker after his death. The presence of the first-person voice makes this piece a lyric. Besides, the text consists of 14 lines that are grouped into a single stanza.

Literary Devices

Clifton’s ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’ showcases the following literary devices.

  • Enjambment: It occurs in the whole text. In fact, Clifton enjambs all the lines in order to connect them internally.
  • Metaphor: The phrase “center of myself” can be a metaphor for the soul. It can also be a reference to the basic essence of one’s existence.
  • Repetition: There is a repetition of the term “things” in the last lines. It is meant for the sake of emphasizing the speaker’s idea.


What is the poem ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’ about?

Lucille Clifton’s poem ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’ centers on a speaker’s spiritual experience after his death. He has left his earthly burden in the hands of his wife. Now, he can easily see the things that once were alien to him.

When did Fred Clifton die?

Lucille Clifton’s husband, Fred James Clifton, died on 11 October 1984 at the age of 49. She wrote the poem ‘The Death of Fred Clifton,’ imagining what her husband would have felt after his death.

Who is the speaker of ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’?

The speaker of this piece is Fred Clifton. Lucille uses the first-person point of view in order to describe her husband’s realization after his death.

What type of poem is ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’?

It is a free-verse lyric poem that does not have a regular meter or rhyme scheme. It consists of a total of 14 lines that are packed into a single stanza.

Similar Poems

The following list contains a few poems that similarly evoke the themes present in Lucille Clifton’s poem ‘The Death of Fred Clifton’.

You can explore more poems by Lucille Clifton.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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