On Living and Leaving is a deeply depressing poem which discusses the potential reality that those who have died are better off than those who are living. The poem is a free verse consisting of 14 lines that are written mostly in formal diction. Paguia uses the poetic devices of Enjambment and Symbolism to express how the people who are living are burdened with sorrows and hardship, while those who have died are free from these tribulations. Paguia has crafted a depressing poem in an almost paradoxical setting because she has contrasted life and death, which are so obviously different in so many ways, only to say that death is better than life. Paguia’s poem On Living and Leaving is beautiful despite its depressing nature because it forces the reader to evaluate life and question whether one is fulfilling their real purpose or not. Unlike many other poems which discuss the sorrow of life, Paguia makes the reader consider whether the struggles we suffer while living are actually amounting to something worthwhile, or are we just completely wasting our time. You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of On Living and Leaving
The first four lines utilize Enjambment to make the sentences flow and give a deeper meaning to the verses. Paguia begins her poem by openly claiming that it is an undebatable fact that those who are alive can not really enjoy life. She explains herself further in the following sentence by stating that every individual who dwells and struts on earth can not enjoy life because they carries sorrow on their backs. The real message of Paguias poem is slightly revealed as she mentions those who ‘strut’ on earth. Paguia has not generalized that all people who are alive can not understand the joy of living, but rather he is trying to state that those who are proud or those that believe themselves to be powerful and even eternal, are those who can not enjoy living. Why is that the case? The next line sheds some more light as Paguia now mentions that these strutting individuals who are so busy trying to live, carry sorrow on their tired backs, the key word being tired. This could be a reference to materialism and the superficial lives most people live today. Running after money and trying to attain more yet never being truly happy because there is always something missing. In the next line, Paguia makes it clear that these people are not truly to blame for that is just how the universe works. This system of constantly running after materialistic possessions and not really having any time to enjoy life is not the fault of the people, but rather simply the way the universe functions. Paguia creates a hopeless mood in which he is telling the reader that there is no hope for a better future, or a change in the way life works. Those who are alive will never be able to live because they will tire themselves out chasing materialistic happiness, and only those can be happy who die and are forcefully pulled out of this cruel endless cycle.
Paguia uses symbolism in the fourth sentence of his poem. She describes the people who are living as dragging their bodies, struggling to reach forward, tiring themselves out trying to reach for the sunset. This obviously does not mean a physical struggle to reach the sun but rather a mental and emotional battle in which people literally exhaust themselves trying to attain the unattainable. The sunset is not something that a human being can physically reach. Paguia’s mentioning of these living people tiring themselves out in an attempt to reach the sunset is in reality Symbolism to state that people are exhausting themselves trying to reach the unattainable. Working endless hours, studying long nights; not for the sake of enjoying life, but for the sake of attaining materialistic happiness, which in reality, is unattainable because of its transient nature.
The last couple of lines in Paguia’s poem are just as depressing as the rest of her poem but they also enlighten us as to why she is arguing that death is better than life. Paguia states that these living people who are tiring themselves out needlessly are trapped in this repetitive system of chasing that which one can not attain. Paguia states that they do not even have the privilege to leave, it is the ones who have died that are at peace. An interesting change to note in these last two lines is that Paguia states the ones who live; die, and not the ones who die; live. This can change the meaning of the poem to be about attaining wisdom. That while people are young and chasing their dreams they get so caught up in routines and schedules that they do not get a chance to actually live, and by the time they have understood that life is not about being busy and running around in circles but rather about taking your time and enjoying the small things, it is too late, they have aged beyond their days and either their health does not allow them to live happily or they are consumed by death. The last line of the poem supports this view as well because it states that these individuals taste death as the sun rises. This means that these people who have lived and understood that reaching for the sunset is the wrong goal, they understand that there is no point reaching for that which they can never attain, it is these people that have lived and moved on. The idea that people die as the sun rises can also mean that people die after overcoming their desire to reach for the sunset, or in other words, people gain peace after realizing they no longer need to run after materialistic happiness.
The last two lines also support the previous analysis in which Paguia is stating that death is better than being alive because of the severe amount of work and sorrow living people face, while dead people are obviously free from. Her saying that ‘they are forced to stay and rot within’ once again uses symbolism o cleverly describe the living people as rotting, which is a trait associated with those that are dead. Paguia is making a clear distinction that people who are alive are more dead than those that have been buried because they suffer and run around in circles while those who have passed away are free to dream, free from chasing the sunset, which is materialistic wealth, free to enjoy the sunrise.
Sums Paguia has written a depressing poem in which she questions whether those who are dead are actually better off than those who are living. She contrasts the burdensome lives of the people who live, with the peaceful life of those who have died and concludes that the ones who are dead are in fact better off than those who live because they do not have as much stress on their shoulders. Paguia successfully uses Enjambment and Symbolism to allow her words to flow together and express the difference between living and dying.