No one could hope to gather all the poetry, or even all the major poetry, which deals with the topic of death. The following are only a tiny sample of the rich and fascinating range of material that could have been included. The reader is encouraged to see these poems as simply a starting point from which to begin to explore this fascinating field.
The comments offered after each poem are simply the views of this compiler. Readers should think about their own responses and seek others…
from the Holy Sonnets by John Donne (1572-1631)
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou thinkst, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls’ delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stoke; why swellst thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death thou shalt die.
In this sonnet, Donne personifies death and addresses it directly, challenging the notion that death is terrible and all-powerful. In each quatrain (four-line section) he addresses one aspect of death and scornfully dismisses the beliefs on which it is based. Death, he argues, has no real power, it is just a longer sleep, and therefore gives us ease and comfort. He goes on to point out that has ugly company and is controlled by many other factors, denying its right to be proud. The couplet at the end sums up his central point which is based on his own religious conviction, that death it but a steppingstone to heaven, where death has no power.
The Unquiet Grave (traditional ballad)
‘The wind doth blow today, my love,
And a few small drops of rain;
I never had but one true-love;
In cold grave she was lain.
‘I’ll do as much for my true-love;
As any young man may;
I’ll sit and mourn at her grave
For twelvemonth and a day.’
The twelvemonth and a day being up,
The dead bean to speak:
‘Oh who sits weeping on my grave,
And will not let me sleep?’
‘ ’Tis I, my love, sits on your grave,
And I will not let you sleep;
For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips,
And that is all I seek.’
‘You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips;
But my breath smells earthy strong;
If you have one kiss of my clay cold lips,
Your time will not be long.
‘ ’Tis down in yonder garden green,
Love, where we used to walk,
The finest flower that ere was seen
Is withered to a stalk.
‘The stalk is withered dry, my love,
So will our hearts decay;
So make yourself content, my love
Till God calls you away.’
Ballads were sung or recited by travelling minstrels and became woven into the culture. This English tale, like many ballads contained a warning or message. In this case it warns against undue or excessive grief. When disease and accidents made death a common occurrence, it would be dangerous and wasteful to spend one’s life grieving over a loved one who had passed away. The ballad concludes with the wise words from the departed loved one, “make yourself content, my love / till God calls you away.”
To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
Had we but World enough, and Time,
This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long Loves Day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges side
Should’st Rubies find: I by the Tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood:
And you should if you please refuse
Till the Conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable Love should grow
Vaster than Empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on the Forehead Gaze.
Two hundred to adore each Breast:
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An Age to each and every part,
And the last Age should show your Heart.
For Lady you deserve this State;
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I alwaies hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Deserts of vast Eternity.
Thy Beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My ecchoing Song: then worms shall try
That long preserv’d Virginity:
And your quaint Honour turn to dust;
And into dear death ashes all my Lust.
The Grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hew,
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now; like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
Let us role all our Strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
As this eager young man addresses his loved one, urging her to accept him, we might think that death would be the last thing on his mind. Yet the key to the poem lies in the lines, “But at my back I alwaies hear / Times winged Charriot hurrying near.” The poet is all too aware of the brief span of life, and the message for all readers is to use the time we have before we are carried off in “the winged Charriot.” He urges us to share love, for “The Grave’s a fine and private place / But none I think do there embrace.” We all know that time is relative: when we are doing something boring, it seems to drag, but in pleasurable pursuits, time rushes quickly past. Marvel concludes therefore that even though we cannot stop time, or achieve immortality, at we can make the most of the time we have, “Thus, though we cannot make our Sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
A Thought For a Lonely Death Bed Inscribed to my Friend E.C. by Elizabeth Barrett, 1844.
IF God compel thee to this destiny,
To die alone, with none beside thy bed
To ruffle round with sobs thy last word said
And mark with tears the pulses ebb from thee, –
Pray then alone, ‘ O Christ, come tenderly !
By thy forsaken Sonship in the red
Drear wine-press, – by the wilderness out-spread, –
And the lone garden where thine agony
Fell bloody from thy brow, – by all of those
Permitted desolations, comfort mine !
No earthly friend being near me, interpose
No deathly angel ‘twixt my face aud thine,
But stoop Thyself to gather my life’s rose,
And smile away my mortal to Divine ! ‘
Grief by Elizabet Barrett Browning
I tell you, hopeless grief is passionless;
That only men incredulous of despair,
Half-taught in anguish, through the midnight air
Beat upward to God’s throne in loud access
Of shrieking and reproach. Full desertness
In souls, as countries, lieth silent-bare
Under the blanching vertical eye-glare
Of the absolute Heavens. Deep-hearted man, express
Grief for thy Dead in silence like to death: –
Most like a monumental statue set
In everlasting watch and moveless woe,
Till itself crumble to the dust beneath.
Touch it: the marble eyelids are not wet
If it could weep, it could arise and go.
On The Death Of Anne Brontë By Charlotte Brontë 1849
THERE ‘s little joy in life for me,
And little terror in the grave ;
I ‘ve lived the parting hour to see
Of one I would have died to save.
Calmly to watch the failing breath,
Wishing each sigh might be the last ;
Longing to see the shade of death
O’er those belovèd features cast.
The cloud, the stillness that must part
The darling of my life from me ;
And then to thank God from my heart,
To thank Him well and fervently ;
Although I knew that we had lost
The hope and glory of our life ;
And now, benighted, tempest-tossed,
Must bear alone the weary strife.
The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The flacon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack of all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with a lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
This strange and disturbing poem seems to be about the death, not of any one individual, but of the world itself. In the Christian faith, the Second Coming is usually portrayed as a time of great glory, when all receive their ultimate reward, but this is not the way Yeats portrays the event. He seems very despondent about the state of the world, where, “The best lack of all conviction,/ while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.” Consequently, he predicts a ghastly fate, where the troubled world has created some monstrous rebirth, “vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.” This could be seen as a warning to the reader that we must all end our wicked ways. The powerful image of the “rough beast, its hour come at last,” which, “Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born” certainly creates a vivid and troubling final picture.
Death by William Butler Yeats
Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone –
Man has created death.
The Ballad Of Reading Gaol (Extract Only) By Oscar Wilde, 1898
He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.
He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby gray;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.
I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.
I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Mistah Kurtz – he dead.
A penny for the Old Guy
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer –
Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom
This is the dead land
This is the cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.
Perhaps it is the sensitivity and perceptiveness needed to be a poet that results in so many sobering visions of the world. Like Keats, Eliot sees the world as a sad and selfish place, where humanity has little of value:” We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men.”
Beach Burial by Kenneth Slessor (1901-1971)
Softly and humbly to the Gulf of Arabs
The convoys of dead sailors come;
At night they sway and wonder in the waters far under,
But morning rolls them in the foam.
Between the sob and clubbing of the gunfire
Someone, it seems, has time for this,
To pluck them from the shallows and bury them in burrows
And tread the sand upon their nakedness;
And each cross, the driven stake of tidewood,
Bears the last signature of men,
Written with such perplexity, with such bewildered pity,
The words choke as they begin –
‘Unknown seamen’ – the ghostly pencil
Wavers and fades, the purple drips,
The breath of the wet season has washed their inscriptions
As blue as drowned men’s lips,
Dead seamen, gone in search of the same landfall,
Whether as enemies they fought,
Or fought with us, or neither; the sand joins them together,
Enlisted on the other front.
Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)
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.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
In this poem, Dylan Thomas addressees his father directly as the time of the older man’s death approaches. He presents a fierce challenge and a plea to not accept death passively, but to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The use of light to represent life and darkness to signify death is a frequent symbol in death poetry, but rarely so well used as here where “blind eyes…blaze like meteors” at “close of day.” Thomas lists all types of men and for each explains why death should not by simply accepted. The underlying message is that life is too precious to give up without a battle. This poem is an example of a villanelle, a French poetry form.
In Memoriam Frederick Douglass By Eloise A. Bibb 1891
O Death! why dost thou steal the great,
With grudging like to strongest hate,
And rob the world of giant minds,
For whom all nature mourns and pines.
So few have we upon the earth,
Whom God ennobled at their birth,
With genius stamped upon their souls,
That guides, directs, persuades, controls.
So few who scorn the joys of life,
And labor in contending strife,
With zeal increased and stength of ten,
To ameliorate the ills of men.
So few who keep a record clean,
Amid temptations strong and keen;
Who live laborious days and nights,
And shun the stores of passion’s blights.
O, why cannot these linger here,
As lights upon this planet drear;
Forever in the public sight,
To lead us always to the right?
O Douglass! thou wert ‘mong the few
Who struggles and temptations knew,
Yet bravely mounted towering heights,
Amazing both to blacks and whites.
The sons of Ham feel desolate
Without thee, O Douglass the Great;
A nation’s tears fall now with mine,
While mourning at thy sacred shrine.
Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,–
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
Wilfred Owen lived to be 25. He was killed in the trenches of France in WWI. He was the one of the first to actually write of the war from his own personal experiences from the trenches and to reveal the truth extent of the tragedy. Anthem for doomed youth is a sonnet which conveys something of the sadness and bitterness towards the waste of a generation. The format of this poem is asking two rhetorical questions. The Octet begins “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?” a term like “die as cattle” suggests the inhumanity and brutality used. Sounds of the war are vividly evoked “Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle” and “The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells” These sounds are compared to the “…bugles calling for them from sad shires” makes us face the inevitability of their deaths. The sense of a conclusion and impact on the whole society is summed up with the simple image of “And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.”
Futility by Wilfred Owen
Move him into the sun –
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields half-sown.
Always it woke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds –
Woke once the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs, so dear achieved, are sides
Full-nerved, still warm, too hart to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
– O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?
Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongue,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Too One Shortly to Die by Walt Whitman 1900.
FROM all the rest I single out you, having a message for you:
You are to die – Let others tell you what they please, I cannot prevaricate,
I am exact and merciless, but I love you – There is no escape for you.
Softly I lay my right hand upon you – you just feel it,
I do not argue – I bend my head close, and half envelope it,
I sit quietly by – I remain faithful,
I am more than nurse, more than parent or neighbor,
I absolve you from all except yourself, spiritual, bodily – that is
Eternal – you yourself will surely escape,
The corpse you will leave will be but excrementitious.
The sun bursts through in unlooked-for directions!
Strong thoughts fill you, and confidence – you smile!
You forget you are sick, as I forget you are sick,
You do not see the medicines – you do not mind the weeping friends – I
am with you,
I exclude others from you – there is nothing to be commiserated,
I do not commiserate – I congratulate you.
Here Whitman challenges many of the usual attitudes to death. Rather than hiding behind flowery imagery he states the facts plainly, “You are to die.” His poem is not cruel or harsh however. He shows warmth and compassion for the person he addresses, “Softly, I lay my right hand upon you.” Indeed, the poem seems to be mostly about Whitman’s feelings about his own experience of waiting with someone for their death, rather than about the person who is dying, about whom we hear very little. Again a spiritual element is reflected as the dying person casts off the unpleasant paraphernalia of dying, the medicines, the weeping friends, and smiles, at peace at last. This explains Whitman’s final line, “I do not commiserate – I congratulate you.”
Buffalo Bill’s by E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)
who used to
ride a water smooth-silver stallion
and break one two three four five pigeons just like that Jesus
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Cummings challenged all the commonly accepted rules about the structure and form of poetry, creating highly original and evocative pieces like this. Here he reflects on a colorful character from history, an interesting comparison to the traditional odes covered elsewhere on this page. The reader is reminded that death comes to all of us, including those who have lead a wild and violent life. The final question, addressed directly to death, suggests that death is truly the final reaper.
Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)
I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it-
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade,
My right foot
My face a featureless, fine
Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?-
The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
Will vanish in a day.
Soon, soon the flesh
The grave cave ate will be
At home on me
And I am a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
And like the cat I have nine times to die.
This is Number Three.
What a trash
To annihilate each decade.
What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see
Them unwrap me hand and foot-
The big strip tease.
These are my hands,
I may be skin and bone,
Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.
The second time I meant
To last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut
As a seashell.
They had to call and call
And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.
Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute
That knocks me out.
There is a charge
For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart-
It really goes.
And there is a charge, a very large charge,
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blook
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.
I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
The pure gold baby
That melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there-
A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.
Herr God, Herr Lucifer,
Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.
Poppies in October by Sylvia Plath
Even the sun-clouds this morning cannot manage such skirts.
Nor the woman in the ambulance
Whose ret heart blooms through ha coat so astoundingly –
A gift, a love gift
Utterly unasked for
By a sky
Palely and flamily
Igniting its carbon monoxides, by eyes
Dulled to a halt under bowlers.
O my God, what am I
That these late mouths should cry open
In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers .
The Fate of Armies by Bruce Dawe 1969
Now I know what cool earth the armies
return, return, return, in absolute silence,
under the hurt gaze of the moon.
Slim, nude, beautiful, each combatant
rises into injured light, shrugging off
the last fox-hole sand, the last cast
Of silica shielding him from the air that moves
massing about him in clumps of darkness where the grass
on its frail blades tests the throat of dew
Alive with enquiry then, and anxious for
a solace dreamed of while the brute weather
exploded above them, they roil, roll, writhe
As if bewitched on the pure blebs besprinkling
the vast yard. If they could sing, they would;
if they could travel speedily enough
Over the surface of their world to inhabit
perpetual night, that would be something
and better than retreating, as they must, at the hour
When the first birds whistle their eerily reveille and the sky quakes
with its sick pallor, black into holes,
to eat soil, to thirst, to lie, eyeless.
Ghosts by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907)
THOSE forms we fancy shadows, those strange lights
That flash on dank morasses, the quick wind
That smites us by the roadside–are the Night’s
Innumerable children. Unconfined
By shroud or coffin, disembodied souls,
Uneasy spirits, steal into the air
From ancient graveyards when the curfew tolls
At the day’s death. Pestilence and despair
Fly with the sightless bats at set of sun;
And wheresoever murders have been done,
In crowded palaces or lonely woods,
Where’er a soul has sold itself and lost
Its high inheritance, there, hovering, broods
Some sad, invisible, accurséd ghost!
Aldrich uses the sonnet to evoke a picture of ghosts which is familiar to most of us, the classical image of the strange light or odd cold breathe of wind where no wind should be. His ghosts are the sad, tormented spirits who have been unable to find rest due to their violent deaths, untimely death or unfinished business in the world of the living.
When You See Millions Of The Mouthless Dead by Charles Sorley
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.
Hardness of Heart by Edward Shillito
In the first watch no death but made us mourn;
Now tearless eyes run down the daily roll,
Whose names are written in the book of death;
For sealed are now the springs of tears, as when
The tropic sun makes dry the torrent’s course
After the rains. They are too many now
For mortal eyes to weep, and none can see
But God alone the Thing itself and live.
We look to seaward, and behold a cry!
To skyward, and they fall as stricken birds
On autumn fields; and earth cries out its toll,
From the Great River to the world’s end–toll
Of dead, and maimed and lost; we dare not stay;
Tears are not endless and we have no more.
Now by Eleanor Alexander
For me, my friend, no grave-side vigil keep
With tears that memory and remorse might fill;
Give me your tenderest laughter earth-bound still,
And when I die you shall not want to weep.
No epitaph for me with virtues deep
Punctured in marble pitiless and chill:
But when play time is over, if you will,
The songs that soothe beloved babes to sleep.
No lenten lilies on my breast and brow
Be laid when I am silent; roses red,
And golden roses bring me here instead,
That if you love or bear me I may know;
I may not know, nor care, when I am dead:
Give me your songs, and flowers, and laughter now.
With emotions blunted and eyes no longer able to weep at each death, the overwhelming horror of the endless lists of dead were the topic for this sonnet by Eleanor Alexander.
If Thou Wilt Ease Thine Heart By Thomas Lovell Beddoes (1803-1849)
If thou wilt ease thine heart
Of love, and all its smart,–
Then sleep, dear, sleep!
And not a sorrow
Hang any tear on your eyelashes;
Lie still and deep,
Sad soul, until the sea-wave washes
The rim o’ the sun to-morrow,
In eastern sky,
But wilt thou cure thine heart
Of love, and all its smart,-
Then die, dear, die!
‘T is deeper, sweeter,
Than on a rose bank to lie dreaming
With folded eye;
And then alone, amid the beaming
Of love’s stars, thou’lt meet her
In eastern sky.
Here Beddoes reminds that us that while life may seem full of heartache and pain, the only alternative is death, and that is hardly a happy option. The poem seems to have been written in response who wept in misery over a broken heart too long, but Beddoes’ rather harsh sounding response does offer the comfort of an eventual reunion of the lovers “In eastern sky.”
Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
To him who, in the love of Nature, holds
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
A various language: for his gayer hours
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
And eloquence of beauty; and she glides
Into his darker musings, with a mild
And healing sympathy, that steals away
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
Over thy spirit, and sad images
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart,–
Go forth under the open sky, and list
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around–
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air–
Comes a still voice:–Yet a few days, and they
The all-beholding sun shall see no more
In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim
Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again;
And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
Thine individual being, shalt thou go
To mix forever with the elements;
To be a brother to the insensible rock,
And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mold.
Yet not to thine eternal resting place
Shalt thou retire alone–nor couldst thou wish
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world–with kings,
The powerful of the earth–the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulcher. The hills,
Rock-ribbed, and ancient as the sun; the vales
Stretcheing in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods; rivers that move
In majesty, and the coplaining brooks,
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all
Old ocean’s gray and melancholy waste
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man! The golden sun,
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
The globe are but a handful to the tribes
That slumber in its bosom. Take the wings
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
Where rolls the Oregon and hears no sound
Save his own dashings–yet the dead are there;
And millions in those solitudes, since first
The flight of years began, have laid them down
In their last sleep–the dead reign there alone!
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw
In silence from the living; and no friend
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
Plod on, and each one as before shall chase
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train
Of ages glides away, dear death the sons of men–
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,
And the sweet babe, and the gray-headed man
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.
So live that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.
From The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
He was no sick, and his death was not so much a matter of dying as a form of progressive dematerialization, a dwindling of bodily substance and the bodily functions, while this life more and more gathered in his eyes and in the gentle radiance of his withering old man’s face. To most of the inhabitants of Monteport this was a familiar sight, accepted with due respect. Only a few persons, such as Knecht, Ferromonte, and young Petrus, were privileged to share after a fashion in this sunset glow, this fading out of a pure and selfless life. These few, when they had put themselves into the proper frame of mind before stepping into the little room in which the Master sat in his armchair, succeeded in entering into this soft iridescence of disembodiment, in sharing the old man’s silent movement toward perfection.
Remember by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Without Her by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
What of her glass without her? the blank grey
There where the pool is blind of the moon’s face.
Her dress without her? the tossed empty space
Of cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away.
Her paths without her? Day’s appointed sway
Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place
Without her! Tears, Ah me! for love’s good grace
And cold forgetfullness of night or day.
What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,
Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?
A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,
Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,
Where the long cloud, the long wood’s counterpart,
Sheds doubled darkness up the labouring hill.
A Superscription by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been;
I arn also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell;
Unto thine ear I hold the dead-sea shell
Cast up thy Life’s foam-fretted feet between;
Unto thine eyes the glass where that is seen
Which had Life’s form and Love’s, but by my spell
Is now a shaken shadow intolerable,
Of ultimate things unuttered the frail screen.
Mark me, how still I am! But should there dart
One moment through thy soul the soft surprise
Of that winged Ptace which lulls the breath of sighs,
Then shalt thou see me smile, and turn apart
Thy visage to mine ambush at thy heart
Sleepless with cold commemorative eyes.
From A Shopshire Lad by A.E. Housman (1859-1936)
Shot? so quick, so clean an ending?
Oh that was right, lad, that was brave:
Yours was not an ill for mending,
‘Twas best to take it to the grave.
Oh you had forethought, you could reason,
And saw your road and where it led,
And early wise and brave in season
Put the pistol to your head.
Oh soon, and better so than later
After long disgrace and scorn,
You shot dead the household traitor,
The soul that should not have been born.
Right you guessed the rising morrow
And scorned to tread the mire you must
Dust’s your wages, son of sorrow,
But men may come to worse than dust.
Souls undone, undoing others,
Long time since the tale began.
You would not live to wrong your brothers:
Oh lad, you died as fits a man.
Now to your grave shall friend and stranger
With ruth and some with envy come:
Undishonoured, clear of danger,
Clean of guilt, pass hence and home.
Turn safe to rest, no dreams, no waking
And here, man, here’s the wreath I’ve made:
‘Tis not a gift that’s worth the taking
But wear it and it will not fade.
In Time of Pestilence by Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)
Adieu, farewell earth’s bliss,
This world uncertain is;
Fond are life’s lustful joys,
Death proves them all but toys,
None from his darts can fly.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!
Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade,
All things to end are made.
The plague full swift goes by.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!
To a Friend recently lost – T.T. by George Meredith (l828-1909)
When I remember, Friend, whom lost I call
Because a man beloved is taken hence,
The tender humour and the fire of sense
In your good eyes: how full of heart for all
And chiefly for the weaker by the wall,
You bore that light of sane benevolence:
Then see I round you Death his shadows dense
Divide, and at your feet his emblems fall.
For surely are you one with the white host,
Spirits, whose memory is our vital air,
Through the great love of earth they had: lo, these,
Like beams that throw the path on tossing seas
Can bid us fed we keep them in the ghost,
Partakers of a strife they joyed to share.
Untitled by William Drummond (1585-1649)
My thoughts hold mortal strife;
I do detest my life,
And with lamenting cries
Peace to my soul to bring
Oft call that prince which here doth monarchize:
– But he, grim grinning King,
Who caitiffs scorms, and doth the blest surprise.
Late having deck’d with beauty’s rose his tomb,
Disdains to crop a weed, and will not come.
Crossing the Bar by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For though from out our bourns of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
Untitled by Thomas Moore (l779-1852)
At the mid hour of night, when stars are weeping I fly
To the lone vale we loved, when life shone warm in thine eye;
And I think that, if spirits can steal from the regions of air
To revisit past scenes of delight, thou wilt come to me there,
And tell me our love is remembered even in the sky.
Then I sing the wild song it once was such rapture to hear,
When our voices commingling breathed like one on the ear;
And as Echo far off through the vale my sad orison rolls,
I think, O my love! ’tis thy voice from the Kingdom of Souls
Faintly answering still the notes that once were so dear.
Untitled by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
Strange fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover’s ear alone,
What once to me befell.
When she I loved looked every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening-moon.
Upon the moon I fixed my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.
And now we reached the orchard-plot;
And, as we climbed the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy’s cot
Came near, and nearer still.
In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature’s gentlest boon!
And all the while my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.
My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopped:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropped.
What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover’s head!
‘O mercy!’ to myself I cried,
‘If Lucy should be dead!’
Untitled by William Wordsworth
Three years she grew in sun and shower;
Then Nature said, ‘A lovelier flower
On earth was never sown:
This child I to myself will take;
She shall be mine, and I will make
A lady of my own.
‘Myself will to my darling be
Both law and impulse: and with me
The girl, in rock and plain,
In earth and heaven, in glade and bower,
Shall feel an overseeing power
To kindle or restrain.
‘She shall be sportive as the fawn
That wild with glee across the lawn
Or up the mountain springs;
And her’s shall be the breathing balm,
And her’s the silence and the calm
Of mute insensate things.
‘The floating clouds their state shall lend
To her, for her the willow bend;
Nor shall she fail to see
E’en in the motions of the storm
Grace that shall mould the maiden’s form
By silent sympathy.
‘The stars of midnight shall be dear
To her, and she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face.
‘And vital feelings of delight
Shall rear her form to stately height,
Her virgin bosom swell;
Such thoughts to Lucy I will give
While she and I together live
Here in this happy dell.’
Thus Nature spake – The work was done –
How soon my Lucy’s race was run!
She died, and left to me
This heath, this calm and quiet scene
The memory of what has been
And never more will be.
Untitled by William Wordsworth
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove;
A maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love.
A violet by a mossy stone
Half-hidden from the eye!
– Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be
But she is in her grave, and O!
The difference to me!
The Sick Rose by William Blake (1757-1827)
O rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm,
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
The Going by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would dose your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!
Never to bid good-bye,
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.
Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!
You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me
While Life unrolled us its very best.
Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishig strive to seek
That time’s renewal? We might have said
‘In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.’
Well, well! All’s past amend,
Unchangeable. It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing –
Not even I – would undo me so!
Come away, come away, Death,
And in sad cypres let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden (1907-1973)
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West.
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Parentage by Alice Meynell (1847-1922)
‘WHEN AUGUSTUS CAESAR LEGISLATED AGAINST THE UNMARRIED CITIZENS OF ROME, HE DECLARED THEM TO BE, IN SOME SORT, SLAYERS OF THE PEOPLE.’
Ah no! not these!
These, who were childless, are not they who gave
So many dead unto the journeying wave,
The helpless nurslings of the wailing seas;
Not the who doomed by infallible decrees
Unnumbered man to the innumerable grave.
But those who slay
Are fathers. Theirs are armies. Death is theirs –
The death of innocences and despairs;
The dying of the golden and the grey.
The sentence, when they speak it, has no Nay.
And she who slays is she who bears, who bears.
Epitaph on her Son at St Syth’s Church, where her body lies interred by Katherine Philips (1631-1664)
What on earth deserves our trust?
Youth and beauty both are dust
Long we gathering are with pain,
What one moment calls again.
Seven years’ childless marriage past,
A son, a son is born at last:
So exactly limbed and fair,
Full of good spirits, mien, and air,
As a long life promised,
Yet, in less than six weeks dead.
Too promising, too great a mind
In so small room to be confined:
Therefore, as fit in Heav’n to dwell
He quickly broke the prison shell.
So the subtle alchemist
Can’t with Hermes’ seal resist
The powerful spirit’s subtler flight,
But ’twill bid him long good night:
And so the sun, if it arise
Half so glorious as his eyes,
Like this infant, takes a shroud
Buried in a morning cloud.
An Epitaph by Richard Crashaw (l612-1649)
UPON A YOUNG MARRIED COUPLE DEAD AND BURIED TOGETHER
To these, whom death again did wed,
This grave’s their second marriage-bed.
For though the hand of Fate could force
Twixt soul and body a divorce,
It could not sunder man and wife,
‘Muse they both lived but one lie
Peace, good reader. Do not weep.
Peace, the lovers are asleep.
They, sweet turtles, folded lie
In the last knot love could tie.
And though they lie as they were dead,
Their pillow stone, their sheets of lead
(Pillow hard, and sheets not warm),
Love made the bed; they’ll take no harm.
Let them sleep, let them sleep on,
Till this stormy night be gone,
Till th’ eternal morrow dawn;
Then the curtains will be drawn
And they wake into a light
Whose day shall never die in night.
Ode, Written in the Beginning of the Year 1746 by William Collins (1721 – 1759)
How sleep the brave, who sink to rest
By all their country’s wishes blest!
When Spning, with dewy fingers cold
Returns to deck their hallowed mould,
She there shall dress a sweeter sod
Than Fancy’s feet have ever trod.
By fairy hands their knell is wrung,
By forms unseen their dirge is sung;
There Honour comes, a pilgrim grey
To bless the turf that wraps their clay,
And Freedom shall awhile repair
To dwell a weeping hermit there!
To The Night by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
Swiftly walk over the western wave,
Spirit of Night!
Out of the misty eastern cave
Where, all the long and lone daylight,
Thou wovest dreams of joy and fear
Which make thee terrible and dear,
Swift be thy flight!
Wrap thy form in a mantle grey
Blind with thine hair the eyes of day,
Kiss her until she be wearied out,
Then wander o’er city, and sea, and land,
Touching all with thine opiate wand
When I arose and saw the dawn,
I sigh’d for thee;
When light rode high, and the dew was gone,
And noon lay heavy on flower and tree,
And the weary Day turn’d to his rest
Lingering like an unloved guest,
I sigh’d for thee.
Thy brother Death came, and cried
Wouldst thou me?
Thy sweet child Sleep, the filmy-eyed,
Murmur’d like a noontide bee
Shall I nestle near thy side?
Wouldst thou me? – And I replied
No, not thee!
Death will come when thou art dead,
Soon, too soon –
Sleep will come when thou art fled;
Of neither would I ask the boon
I ask of thee, beloved Night –
Swift be thine approaching flight,
Come soon, soon!
Untitled by John Milton (1608-1674)
Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave
Whom Jove’s great son to her glad husband gave
Rescued from Death by force, though pale and faint
Mine, as whom washed from spot of child-bed taint
Purification in the Old Law did save
And such as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in Heaven without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind
Her face was veiled; yet to my fancied sight
Love. sweetness, goodness, in her person shined
So clear as in no face with more delight
But, oh! as to embrace me she inclined
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night
Elegy by George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)
O snatch’d away in beauty’s bloom!
On thee shall press no ponderous tomb;
But on thy turf shall roses rear
Their leaves, the earliest of the year,
And the wild cypress wave in tender gloom:
And oft by yon blue gushing stream
Shall Sorrow lean her drooping heat,
And feed deep thought with many a dream,
And lingering Pause and lightly tread;
Fond wretch! as if her step disturb’d the dead!
Away! we know that tears are vain,
That Death nor heeds nor hears distress:
Will this unteach us to complain?
Or make one mourner weep the less?
And thou, who tell’st me to forget,
Thy looks are wan, thine eyes are wet.
Death the Leveller by James Shirley (l596-1666)
The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.
Some men with swords may reap the field,
And plant fresh laurels where they kill:
But their strong nerves at last must yield;
They tame but one another still:
Early or late
They stoop to fate,
And must give up their murmuring breath
When they, pale captives, creep to death.
The garlands wither on your brow;
Then boast no more your mighty deeds;
Upon Death’s purple altar now
See where the victor-victim bleeds:
Your heads must come
To the cold tomb;
Only the actions of the just
Smell sweet, and blossom in their dust.
The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping – rapping at my chamber door.
“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door –
Only this and nothing more.”
Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“‘Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
This it is and nothing more.”
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly yours forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping – tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you” – here I opened wide the door: –
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore!” –
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore! –
Merely this and nothing more.
Then into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more.”
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above this chamber door –
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”
But the Raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered, “Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before,”
Then the bird said, “Nevermore.”
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his Hope the melacholy burden bore
But the Raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this Home by Horror haunted – tell me truly I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? tell me – tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore.
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting –
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting – still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a Demon that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!
from Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1932
Five bus-loads of boys and girls, singing or in a silent embracement, rolled past them over the vitrified highway. “Just returned,” explained Dr. Gaffnev, while Bernard whispering, made an appointment with the Head Mistress for that very evening, “from the Slough Crematorium. Death conditioning begins at eighteen months. Every tot spends two mornings a week in a Hospital for the Dying. All the best toys are kept there, and they get chocolate cream on death days. They learn to take dying as a matter of course.” “Like any other physiological process,” put in the Head Mistress professionally.