If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? -Percy Bysshe Shelley (Ode to the West Wind)
Such spirited start, isn’t it? Poets literally can change our thoughts with mere lines. So are the poems that deal with Death.
“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, “Prospice” and “Because I could not stop for Death” are on top of the list when it comes to overcome the fear of death. In the three years of my graduation I read these poems in the respective order and I must say there was an orderly development in my thought which I would like to share with you. Some of you might even connect with it.
Our generation is dealing with Death more closely than any other. With the help of advanced technology and advanced mutants of novel corona virus, the world is ‘connecting’ rapidly! It’s a time where no one is untouched by the feeling of anxiety or depression. Therefore it is crucial to keep the mind afresh. Why not to give a kick start to brain by reading through the lines of poetry instead of covid news every morning.
Gray and his Elegy
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike th’ inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.“
In his poem Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard(1757), Thomas Gray talks about inevitability of death. While the traditional elegy form memorializes an individual’s death, but Gray expands the form to encompass death as a phenomenon that all of humankind inevitably experiences. He talks of big ambitious people who look with contempt at the poor people, they all are lying buried in the ground. Thus giving the message that death is blind to mankind’s social constructs such as class distinction. Death is the ultimate leveler.
Reading this poem makes one realise how futile is living; living by boasting of all the achievements, all the wealth; because one day when the end comes one will have to leave all these behind. Here come the reality check.
Written after his wife’s death whom he loved dearly, Robert Browning describes his idea of combating Death in his 1861 poem Prospice.
“I was ever a fighter, so—one fight more,
The best and the last!
I would hate that death bandaged my eyes and forbore,
And bade me creep past.
No! let me taste the whole of it, fare like my peers..”
Browning treats Death as his enemy. The poet is not at all afraid of the physical troubles that come at the time of death. The symptoms of death does not deter him. Browning says that even the heroes of antiquity had to face death and fight it bravely. Common man should derive inspiration from them and be prepared to meet death bravely and cheerfully like them. If we do so, we can overcome it in one minute. Death is scary only when we are afraid of it. As a matter of fact, even the worst moment of death becomes enjoyable and appears to be the best for those who have got courage in them. After all, through death, we pass into another life and pass into Heaven if we are brave.
This verse is an absolute necessity. It radiates optimism- the need of the hour. And also the power to fight the fear.
Because I could not stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
“Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
Emily Dickinson is one of the giants of American literature. She was little known during her life time but became immensely popular after the posthumous publication of her works. Dickinson’s poems reflect her “early and lifelong fascination” with illness, dying and death. The poem contains a gentlemanly appearance of personified Death. The use of words such as ‘kindly’, ‘civility’ create a positive image of usually feared Death in our mind. There are many guesses over the poem’s actual meaning. Some interpret it as the Christian belief in the afterlife. According to the Christian faith, that first life stops and following death we encounter immortality through our existence in the after life.
My personal interpretation was related to the thought “We are born to die”; such that since the birth Death waits for us and in the whole journey of life Death is the only constant companion. Nevertheless, the whole poem gave a soothing feel and therefore evolved my perspective about death.