Death Poems

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.

Death, be not Proud (Holy Sonnet 10)

by John Donne

‘Death, be not Proud’ by John Donne is one of the poet’s best poems about death. It tells the listener not to fear Death as he keeps morally corrupt company and only leads to Heaven.

Without a doubt, one of the best poems written about death. It tells readers not to fear a personified version of Death.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

by Robert Frost

The poem, ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’, by Robert Frost, is about the impermanence of life. It describes the fleeting nature of beauty by discussing time’s effect on nature.

This famous Frost poem reminds readers life only beautiful because it is temporary.


by Edgar Allan Poe

‘Lenore’ is a haunting poem in which Edgar Allan Poe speaks on themes of mourning and loss. He explores true sorrow and what it looks like.

A memorable Poe poem that speaks about the death of Lenore and how she's lucky to have escaped Earth to sit aside God.

Sonnet 71

by William Shakespeare

Read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 71, ‘No longer mourn for me when I am dead,’ with a summary and complete analysis of the poem.

This is an important poem about death that discusses how a loved one should react after someone they care for has passed away.

Funeral Blues

by W.H. Auden

‘Funeral Blues,’ also known as ‘Stop all the Clocks,’ is arguably Auden’s most famous poem. It was first published in ‘The Year’s Poetry’ in 1938.

This poem discusses how powerful grief is and how it influences people.

Explore more poems about Death

Because I could not stop for Death

by Emily Dickinson

‘Because I could not stop for death,’ Dickinson’s best-known poem, is a depiction of one speaker’s journey into the afterlife with personified “Death” leading the way.

Death is the most important theme in this poem and why most readers are drawn to it.

Death of a Young Woman

by Gillian Clarke

Explore ‘Death of a Young Woman,’ where Clarke depicts how a loved one’s death lets a person free from their inward, endless suffering.

As the title points out, this piece is about the death of a woman in her youth and explores the event from the perspective of her loved ones.


by Stevie Smith

‘Parrot’ is a moving exploration of imprisonment and suffering set against the backdrop of the modern, urban world.

As the titular parrot grows closer to death, Smith examines frailty and illness with all her trademark clarity of expression.

Bards of Passion and of Mirth

by John Keats

‘Bards of Passion and of Mirth’ by John Keats is one of the poet’s early odes. In it, Keats confirms that bards, or authors, have two souls, with one rising to heaven, and the other staying on earth.

'Bards of Passion and of Mirth' offers hope for the dead bards for whom he wrote this poem. The speaker seems fully convinced that storytellers live forever as souls who teach people how to reach heaven. However, he also convinces himself that storytellers have two souls, and one lives a beautiful and carefree life in Elysium.

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

by Emily Dickinson

‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’ by Emily Dickinson is a popular poem. In it, she depicts a very unusual idea of life after death.

Death is central to this poem as images related to death, like darkness, tolling bells, and funeral imagery.

The Portrait

by Stanley Kunitz

‘The Portrait’ by Stanley Kunitz is a sad poem about the speaker’s ill-fated attempt to learn more about their deceased father.

This poem deals heavily with death, specifically the suicide of the speaker's father. The death occurs before the speaker is born yet it still shapes their lives in two important ways. The first is the absence of their father from their life creating a void they want to fill, and the second is the mother's devotion to removing any trace of the father from their lives. In this way, although the dead might not exist physically with us anymore, it's apparent they still exert some influence on us because of the unresolved emotions we still cling to regarding them.

‘Twas the old — road — through pain—

by Emily Dickinson

‘Twas the old — road — through pain—’ by Emily Dickinson describes a woman’s path from life to death and her entrance into Heaven. 

Death is the inevitable end of the woman's journey in this poem. It's something she can't escape and is always on her mind.

I died for beauty but was scarce

by Emily Dickinson

‘I died for beauty but was scarce’ by Emily Dickinson reflects her fascination for death and the possible life to follow.

The main characters in this poem are dead and they spend the text discussing what they died for.

The Fish

by Marianne Moore

‘The Fish’ by Marianne Moore uses imagery and form to objectively describe nature and humanity’s ability to survive and mature in the face of death, destruction, and loss.

While many lament poems attempt to express grief, sorrow, and loss, Moore's 'The Fish' looks at death unromantically, offering a bigger-picture perspective of what happens after destruction. According to this poem, life and death are ever-flowing and ever-changing, and accordingly, we change and evolve as we experience any hardship, including death.

I heard a Fly buzz – when I died

by Emily Dickinson

‘I heard a Fly Buzz – when I died’ by Emily Dickinson is an unforgettable depiction of the moments before death. The speaker emphasizes the stillness of the room and the movements of a single fly.

Without a doubt, death is th emost important theme in this poem.


by Robert Louis Stevenson

‘Requiem’ by Robert Louis Stevenson is a poem about accepting death and finding peace in going “home” after a long life. 

A wonderful poem about death that presents it as something to be welcomed rather than feared.

Air Raid

by Chinua Achebe

‘Air Raid’ by Chinua Achebe is a poem that provides a glimpse into the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War using symbolism and dark humor.

The poem depicts death using humour, perhaps implying that the narrator has become desensitized to the sight of death.


by Gillian Clarke

 ‘Sunday’ by Gillian Clarke was inspired by the poet’s personal experience of attempting to enjoy a Sunday morning but then being reminded of all the suffering that’s going on in the world. 

Whilst it may not be an everyday facet of life in Britain, death is always a threat, even more so in places less secure than Clarke's Britain. The final lines demonstrate how fortunate the narrator is to be able to be shocked by life elsewhere.

Ruins of a Great House

by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott’s ‘Ruins of a Great House’ combines themes of historical and cultural abuse with factual reasoning and literary references to bring together a massive emotional conflict in the Speaker’s perception.

This is not an actual death poem, as death is not the central message of this tale, but death fills many of this poem's corners. The ruins in 'Ruins of a Great House' represent the life that was once there, and although that lifestyle was abuse and tragedy, it still means death. Everything around the ruins is broken or dead, the trees, the limes, the gates, and the walls; everything decays like a corpse.

Little Boy Blue

by Eugene Field

‘Little Boy Blue’ by Eugene Field is a beautiful, heartbreaking poem that describes the aftermath of a child’s death. It focuses on the child’s toys and how, despite many years having gone by, they’re still waiting for him. 

Death is the primary theme in this Eugene Field poem. It focuses on the loss of a child and how, even years after he passed away, his toys are still waiting for him to walk into the room and play with them.

Mr. Flood’s Party

by Edwin Arlington Robinson

‘Mr. Flood’s Party’ by Edwin Arlington Robinson describes a man’s later years in life and how lonely he has become. It suggests that a long life is not always a blessing. 

Mr. Flood is nearing death in this poem, finally catching up with all those he loved and who died before him.

Oddjob, a Bull Terrier

by Derek Walcott

‘Oddjob, a Bull Terrier’ by Derek Walcott is a thoughtful, emotional poem about loss and how unbearable the death of a pet can be. 

Death of a loved one, including a pet, is the major theme of this poem.

Two Armies

by Stephen Spender

‘Two Armies’ by Stephen Spender describes two armies on a devastating battlefield where every individual is suffering. Their common humanity is highlighted. 

There is death everywhere in this poem. The fact that the soldiers can't get away from it is one of the issues they face at all times.

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

by Robert Duncan

‘Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’ by Robert Duncan is often regarded as the poet’s best work. It analyzes the poet’s dream of a meadow while also exploring the new technique of projective verse.

‘Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow’ hints toward the poet's recognition of his own death, an "everlasting omen." While the symbols of death in this poem are subtle, they are also accompanied by hidden references to rebirth. Thus, this poem is focused on the themes of reincarnation and past lives.


by Anne Sexton

‘Rowing’ by Anne Sexton is a moving and unforgettable poem about depression. It was written two years before Sexton took her life in 1974.

The poem's focus on the challenges and difficulties of life suggests a contemplation of death and the fleeting nature of human existence. The image of rowing can be interpreted as a metaphor for the struggle of life, and the rat inside the speaker can be seen as a symbol of the pain and darkness that can consume a person.

Suicide in the Trenches

by Siegfried Sassoon

‘Suicide in the Trenches’ is an incredibly tragic poem. Siegfried Sassoon explores the mental deterioration of a young soldier in the trenches of WW1 and his suicide.

The soldier's suicide is a tragic reminder of the fragility of life and the inevitability of death. The fact that "no one spoke of him again" emphasizes the finality and loneliness of death.

Suicide’s Note

by Langston Hughes

‘Suicide’s Note’ is a three-line poem that speaks from the perspective of someone who wants to take their own life. They feel the “cool face” of the river asking them for a “kiss.”

The calm and cool face of the river suggests a peaceful acceptance of death. When considering the title, it seems likely that the speaker is contemplating ending their life by drowning in the river.


by Elizabeth Alexander

‘Equinox’ by Elizabeth Alexander is a heartfelt poem about death and how all living things are forced to contend with it. The speaker uses a creative metaphor comparing bees on the equinox to her grandmother. 

Death is one of a few major themes that readers will encounter in this poem. Death is the end that all living things face, the poet reminds readers in this poem. From a speaker's grandmother to erratically flying bees, all creatures must acknowledge their own mortality.

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