Masterpiece Monday: Poems About Loss

Tattoo of Thomas' famous lines

Today is a somber day, because it’s the one-year anniversary of my beloved grandfather’s death. Coincidentally, it’s also his birthday, so I find it an apt reminder of how life and death are so intertwined. Thus, for Masterpiece Monday, I thought I would share with you my favorite poems regarding loss. You are more than welcome to add to the discussion your own experiences with grief and any pieces of literature that help you cope.

“Death, Be Not Proud” by John Donne (1633)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st 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 soul’s 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 stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

“Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas (1952)

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.

Death is one of the most ubiquitous topics in poetry, and these poems are two of the most famous that discuss it. (Donne’s poem is even the focus of a film starring Emma Thompson called “Wit,” in which she plays a scholar who is diagnosed with cancer. A total sob-fest, but I highly recommend it).

I chose these poems because even though they come from two completely different eras, they share some common themes. Donne’s belief in an afterlife allows him to downplay death’s power, while Thomas only uses the word “death” once, instead preferring to call it a “good night.” Donne says to not fear death because it holds limited might, and Thomas adds that people do not have to accept death with weakness, but rather hold onto their strength and vitality.

I’m not using these poems as examples of how to view death, because I understand that everyone deals with loss differently. Some find comfort in an afterlife, others don’t. Some prefer to go out in their prime, others hang on to every day given to them. Neither is right nor wrong, and we should support one another through difficult times despite our varied coping mechanisms.

All I know is that today is a reminder of how much those who are gone are not forgotten, because we can still cherish the memories we made with them. After a year, I still miss my grandfather terribly, but I know that he lived a rich life and I am so grateful for the moments we shared together.

Blogging this has been therapeutic, and I want to thank my readers for all your support. It’s nice to feel part of a community–and it’s even nicer when we’ve bonded over some great books and poems!

I’ll leave you with a final quote by A. Sachs: “Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives.

Make sure you live your life to the fullest today, and every day!

Love, Book Club Babe

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