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.

Touch Me by Stanley Kunitz

‘Touch Me’ by Stanley Kunitz is a moving poem about aging, the loss of identity, and desire. It explores what keeps people, and creatures of all varieties, going as they enter the final “season” of their life. 

Touch Me by Stanley Kunitz Visual Representation

The Yachts by William Carlos Williams

‘The Yachts’ by William Carlos Williams depicts the winners, or yacht-owners, in the capitalist system and the losers, or the poor, who are drowning in the waters around the boats. 

The Yachts Poem Visual Representation

A Wounded Deer—leaps highest by Emily Dickinson

‘A Wounded Deer—leaps highest’ by Emily Dickinson is a highly relatable poem that speaks about the difference between what someone or something looks like and the truth. She uses the examples of a fatally wounded deer and someone dying of tuberculosis.

A Wounded Deer--leaps highest by Emily Dickinson Visual Representation

How to Like it by Stephen Dobyns

‘How to Like It’ by Stephen Dobyns was written in order to explore a man’s struggle to accept change as he ages. The poem uses humor and very relatable emotions in order to appeal to readers. 

How to Like It by Stephen Dobyns Visual Representation

Quid Pro Quo by Paul Mariani

‘Quid Pro Quo’ by Paul Mariani is a confessional poem that narrates a speaker’s anger and frustration at God subsequent to his wife’s second miscarriage.

Quid Pro Quo by Paul Mariani Visual Representation

The Legend by Garrett Hongo

‘The Legend’ by Garrett Hongo speaks on themes of alienation and the struggle of immigrants within the United States. It focuses on the symbolic death of an older, Asian man in Chicago.

The Legend by Garrett Hongo Visual Representation

Here by R.S. Thomas

‘Here’ by R.S. Thomas is delivered from the perspective of a man who, while looking back on his life, finds himself self regretting acts of violence he committed.

Here by R.S. Thomas Visual Representation

Complaint by James Wright

‘Complaint’ is one of the early poems of James Wright with a conventional form and meter. This poem is about a rural folk’s dissatisfaction with her dead wife’s absence.

Complaint by James Wright Visual Representation

Home by Warsan Shire

The lines “no one leaves home unless/ home is the mouth of a shark” that made us rethink the global refugee crisis, appear in Somali-British poet Warsan Shire’s poem ‘Home.’ This poem vividly depicts the lived experiences of the refugees both inside and outside of their countries.

Home by Warsan Shire Visual Representation

Splendour in the Grass by William Wordsworth

‘Splendour in the Grass’ by William Wordsworth is an excerpt from the poet’s much longer, ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.’ The excerpt describes aging and where, after their youth has ended, one should seek strength and happiness.

Splendour in the Grass by William Wordsworth Visual Representation

[Buffalo Bill ‘s] by E. E. Cummings

E. Cummings’ free-verse poem ‘[Buffalo Bill ’s]’ taps on the popular theme of the inevitability of death. It includes a civil, indifferent depiction of death.

[Buffalo Bill 's] by E. E. Cummings Visual Representation

More Light! More Light! by Anthony Hecht

‘More Light! More Light!’ by Anthony Hecht what inspired by the poet’s experiences during World War II. It describes several horrific deaths, one and 16th-century England and three in Buchenwald during World War II.

More Light! More Light! by Anthony Hecht Visual Representation

Epitaph on a Tyrant by W.H. Auden

‘Epitaph on a Tyrant’ by W.H. Auden is a thoughtful poem written at the beginning of WWII. The piece describes a tyrant’s beliefs and his power over everything around him. 

Epitaph on a Tyrant by W.H. Auden Visual Representation

The Hill by Edgar Lee Masters

‘The Hill’ by Edgar Lee Masters describes the lives and deaths of some of the residents of Spoon River—the community that features in much of his verse.

The Hill by Edgar Lee Masters Visual Representation

Gale in April by Robinson Jeffers

‘Gale in April’ by Robinson Jeffers was inspired by a storm that Jeffers observed in April while living on the Pacific coast. 

Gale in April by Robinson Jeffers Visual Representation

Root Cellar by Theodore Roethke

‘Root Cellar’ by Theodore Roethke is a short eleven-line poem that describes a variety of disgusting and smelly plant life that exists within a speaker’s root cellar.

Root Cellar by Theodore Roethke Visual Representation

Our revels now are ended by William Shakespeare

‘Our revels now are ended’ is the name given to one of the best-known speeches from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It can be found in Act IV, Scene 1, and is spoken by Prospero. 

Our revels now are ended by William Shakespeare Visual Representation

The View From Halfway Down (Bojack Horseman)

‘The View From Halfway Down’ is a short poem included in an episode of Bojack Horseman. It provides readers with a unique insight into the mind of someone who is moments from his death and experiences an intense regret for his choice to end his life.

The View from Halfway Down Visual Representation

Live Your Life by Chief Tecumseh

‘Live Your Life’ by Chief Tecumseh is an easy-to-read and powerful poem. It was written with the intention of sharing the poet’s beliefs about how to live life and embrace death without fear.

Live Your Life by Chief Tecumseh Visual Representation

Ten Little Soldiers (And Then There Were None)

‘Ten Little Soldiers’ was included in Agatha Christie’s classic mystery novel, ‘And Then There Were None.’ It iserves as an epigraph, appearing at the beginning of the book, and is connected with all ten deaths that occur on the island. It is unclear who wrote the first version of this nursery rhyme.

Ten Little Soldier Boys Visual Representation

The Broken Chain by Ron Tranmer

‘The Broken Chain’ by Ron Tranmer explores the feelings of grief that a family suffers when one of their much-loved members passed away. The poet uses the metaphor of a broken chain to describe their loss.

The Broken Chain by Ron Tranmer Visual Representation

Waiting at the Door (Dog Poem)

‘Waiting at the Door’ is a poem told from the perspective of a loving dog addressing its still living owner. The dog reassures the owner that they will be together again in the future. 

Waiting at the Door Visual Representation

Knocking Around by John Ashbery

‘Knocking Around’ by John Ashbery is a thoughtful and image-rich contemporary poem about life. The four stanzas use a variety of examples of figurative language to describe the lights and darks or the days and nights, or life. 

Knocking Around by John Ashbery Visual Representation

As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden

‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ by W. H. Auden is a poem about the unconquerable nature of death and the imperfect nature of love. This piece was first published in 1940 in the poet’s collection Another Time.

As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden Visual Representation

Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon

‘Everyone Sang’ by Siegfried Sassoon is a moving poem about the joy experienced at the end of World War I. Knowing that the horrors of the war are over, the world sang out with the joy of a newly uncaged bird.

Everyone Sang by Siegfried Sassoon Visual Representation

A Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

‘A Dirge Without Music’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a beautiful dirge. The poet uses clear and lyrical language to describe how lovers and thinkers alike go into the darkness of death with a little remaining.

A Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay Visual Representation

A Dirge by Christina Rossetti

‘A Dirge’ by Christina Rossetti is a thoughtful and moving poem about death. It speaks on the birth and death of an important person in the speaker’s life.

A Dirge by Christina Rossetti Visual Representation

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