The Death of Poetry

By: Terry J. Coyier

Death. It's as much a part of life as being born and, by far, more fascinating to poets. The amount of poetry written about death and dying could lead you to believe that the topic plays on the mind of poets quite frequently. And why shouldn't it? People have been fascinated with death as far back in history as history goes, so the records tell us.

Ancient Egyptians' lives were intertwined with their fixation of death and the afterlife. As most people know, Egyptians mummified the body after death and buried it with worldly items it would need in the afterlife. Many of these same Egyptians worshiped Osiris, the king of the dead, who had a large cult following. Greeks believed that mortals lived out the afterlife in Hades. Hades was home to both the Elysian Fields (a paradise) and Tartarus (an abyss of suffering). Modern Christians believe in Heaven (a paradise) and Hell (a place of damnation) and that you are judged upon death then sent to live out your existence in one of the two places. Many other religions believe in reincarnation (the soul being reborn into another body).

No matter what your belief on death, it either already has, or will, touch you at some point in your life - be it sooner or later, you cannot escape it. And when it does touch you, how will you react to it? If you are a poet, perhaps you will write about it. When you do write about it, how will you approach it? Let's look at a couple of examples of what two others have done.

Emily Dickinson in Because I Could Not Stop for Death takes a very mellow approach to death and is quite accepting of it. She writes:

Because I could not stop for Death--
He kindly stopped for me--
The Carriage held but just Ourselves--
And Immortality.

In complete contrast, Dylan Thomas in Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night states:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

What approach will you take? What angle will you give it? Where are you coming from? Maybe you'll emulate one of these poets or carve your own path somewhere in between. Whatever the case may be, remember to be descriptive, choose your words carefully, and try to say what you're going to say in a fresh, new way (I know that's easier said than done).

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