Poems about Death

Death is one of the only themes that is truly universal. Poets have been writing about death from the beginning of recorded history, fearing it, fighting it, and embracing it. Depending on the content of the poem, readers might find themselves thrust into a world where death is everpresent or one in which the main character is peacefully carried to their fate.

Swan in Falling Snow by Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov’s poem ‘Swan in Falling Snow’ is about a speaker’s discovery of a swan’s frozen body. His sad feeling for the creature is portrayed in this poem.

Swan in Falling Snow by Denise Levertov Visual Representation

How It Is by Maxine Kumin

‘How It Is’ is written, remembering the best-loved confessional poet, Anne Sexton. This poem centers around an old blue jacket.

How It Is by Maxine Kumin Visual Representation

Air by W.S. Merwin

‘Air’ appears in W.S. Merwin’s 1963 collection of poetry, The Moving Target. This piece is about the personified air, introspecting on its role in nature.

Air by W.S. Merwin Visual Representation

The Orchard by Robert A. Ayres

Robert A. Ayres’s ‘The Orchard’ depicts a desolate garden that the speaker visited in the past. This image-rich poem explores the theme of the transience of life.

The Orchard by Robert A. Ayres Visual Representation

My Son, My Executioner by Donald Hall

Donald Hall’s poem ‘My Son, My Executioner’ centers on how a speaker looks at his child’s innocent face and wishes to die in order to get immortality. It taps on the spiritual bliss of parenting.

My Son, My Executioner by Donald Hall VIsual Representation

To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman

‘To a Locomotive in Winter’ by Walt Whitman is a memorable poem written in Whitman’s skilled free verse. It addresses a train and celebrates its sounds, images, and strength.

To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman Visual Representation

1861 by Walt Whitman

‘1861’ by Walt Whitman is a moving Civil War poem written from the perspective of a soldier. He details the difficulty of a particular year. 

1861 by Walt Whitman Visual Representation

After Death by Christina Rossetti

‘After Death’ is a Petrarchan Sonnet by Victorian poet Christina Rossetti. It skillfully explores themes of death and tragic love.

After Death by Christina Rossetti Visual Representation

Wrong Train by Ted Berrigan

Ted Berrigan’s poem ‘Wrong Train’ connects a speaker’s experiences while waiting for a train to the afterlife. Berrigan presents this idea with vivid imagery.

Wrong Train by Ted Berrigan Visual Representation

The Prediction by Mark Strand

Mark Strand’s poem ‘The Prediction’ is about the inevitability of death. It depicts a moonlit night where a lady anticipates her imminent death.

The Prediction by Mark Strand Visual Representation

Song of the Builders by Mary Oliver

‘Song of the Builders’ by Mary Oliver is a lovely poem that uses nature as a metaphor. The poet compares human beings and the way we should treat our lives to the way a cricket works humbly. 

Song of the Builders by Mary Oliver Visual Representation

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 by Lucille Clifton Visual Representation

To My Father, Who Died by Dawn Garisch

Dawn Garisch’s poem ‘To My Father, Who Died’ is about the relationship of the poet’s father with the sea. It depicts the cycle of life and death through the metaphor of the sea.

To My Father, Who Died by Dawn Garisch Visual Representation

The Dead by Billy Collins

‘The Dead’ eliminates the gap between the living and the poor. It draws our attention to the fact that the dead are always watching us and waiting for our arrival.

The Dead by Billy Collins Visual Representation

The Lost Pilot by James Tate

‘The Lost Pilot’ is dedicated to James Tate’s father, who died on a bombing mission in World War II in 1944. He was a co-pilot of a B-17.

The Lost Pilot by James Tate Visual Representation

Barbed Wire by Henry Taylor

‘Barbed Wire’ is a poem about the tragic death of a horse on a summer afternoon. This piece explores the quick, sudden death of the horse.

Barbed Wire by Henry Taylor Visual Representation

The Kid by Ai

Ai’s poem ‘The Kid’ presents a haunting tale of a fourteen-year-old boy who kills his mother, sister, and grandfather, and then runs away. It appears in her award-winning poetry collection Vice: New and Selected Poems (1999).

The Kid by Ai Visual Representation

Cuba, 1962 by Ai

Ai’s poem ‘Cuba, 1962’ appears in her poetry collection Vice: New and Selected Poems (1999), winner of the National Book Award for Poetry. This piece is written in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

Cuba, 1962 by Ai Visual Representation

Looking for Judas by Adrian C. Louis

Adrian C. Louis’ ‘Looking for Judas’ is about how the Christian religion played a pivotal role in order to conquer the Native American people. This piece revolves around the central image of “blood.”

Looking for Judas by Adrian C. Louis Visual Representation

The Funeral by Norman Dubie

Norman Dubie’s ‘The Funeral’ is about a speaker’s aunt who died of cancer. In this piece, the speaker shares one of the best memories with her.

The Funeral by Norman Dubie Visual Representation

broken bowl by Penny Harter

‘broken bowl’ by Penny Harter is a short and memorable haiku about a broken bowl. The poem uses three very short lines to describe its rocking pieces. 

broken bowl by Penny Harter Visual Representation

The Bustle in a House by Emily Dickinson

‘The Bustle in a House’ by Emily Dickinson is a short poem about the effects of death. It describes the “bustle” in a home the morning after an important loss.

The Bustle in a House by Emily Dickinson Visual Representation

Boots by Rudyard Kipling

‘Boots’ by Rudyard Kipling is a memorable poem. In it, Kipling uses repetition to emphasize the struggle of soldiers on a forced march. 

Boots by Rudyard Kipling

Nocturne: Blue Waves by Laurie Sheck

‘Nocturne: Blue Waves’ was written by the modern American poet Laurie Sheck. This poem captures a speaker’s feelings in the nocturnal brokenness.

Nocturne Blue Waves by Laurie Sheck Visual Representation

Bill’s Story by Mark Doty

Mark Doty’s ‘Bill’s Story’ appears in his best-known poetry collection My Alexandria (1993). This poem is about the death of a speaker’s sister suffering from dementia and AIDS.

Bill's Story by Mark Doty Visual Representation

Spooning by David Mason

David Mason’s ‘Spooning’ appears in the 1991 winter issue of The Hudson Review. This poem is about a speaker recapturing his dead grandfather’s life.

Spooning by David Mason Visual Representation
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