Tag Archives: death and dying

Poe: Trapped in the Prison of the Self

Two Chinese students have brought home to me, from their collectivist perspective, how Edgar Allan Poe went against the grain of American individualism. He exposed its dark side, even as Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman were unabashedly celebrated it.

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Death Seems Comely at the Fall of the Leaf

The lure of many autumn poems lies in how they focus on a vanishing beauty. Dante Gabriel Rossetti finds death to be “a comely thing/In Autumn at the fall of the leaf.”

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Emily Dickinson & Going to Heaven

In “Going to Heaven,” Emily Dickinson grapples with the idea of heaven but, in her skepticism, concludes that too much focus on the afterlife will draw her attention away from “curious earth.”

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Reconnecting with My Dead Son

Thursday I had a shock of recognition while teaching Stephen King’s IT in my American Fantasy class yesterday. The approach to life that saves the day for the protagonist is the approach that got my eldest son killed 16 years ago. Yet I don’t think King is wrong. In fact, I was comforted once I saw the […]

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Poems To Mourn a Russian History Prof

When a Russian history professor died at our college, his colleagues turned to poetry as they wrestled with his premature death. Ovid, Alexander Pushkin, Ivan Turgenev, and Walt Whitman provided powerful words.

Posted in Ovid, Pushkin (Alexander), Turgenev (Ivan), Whitman (Walt) | Also tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Doctors Need Lit To Stay Human

A doctor argues that continuous reading of literature is essential to keep doctors balanced and to help them deal with the problems that come with the profession.

Posted in Dickinson (Emily), Fowler (Jaren Joy), Kazuo Ishiguro, Murakami (Haruki) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Implore His Aid, in His Decisions Rest

The famous passage from Ecclesiastes–“All is vanity”–inspired a great poem by Samuel Johnson. Johnson’s final conclusion is that we can find happiness only in prayer.

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Medicine & Lit, Working Together

Paul Kalinithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air” represents an ideal blending of science and the humanities, including literature. It’s a book we all should be reading.

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Doctor Faustus: Lessons in Grieving

After watching two students turn to Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus” as they grieved the death of parents, I have come to see the play as a powerful meditation upon how we respond to death.

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In Memory of Daniel Berrigan

Daniel Berrigan, Jesuit activist and poet, died this past Saturday. His “A Dark Word” is a fitting way to note his passing.

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I Am the Dance and the Dance Goes On

At my eldest son’s funeral 16 years ago we sang “The Lord of the Dance.” Justin was a joyous dancer and I imagine him dancing somewhere, in some plane, whenever I hear the hymn.

Posted in Carter (Sydney) | Also tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

On the Death of a Controversial Judge

How long should one pause following the death of a public figure like Justice Antonin Scalia before considering the political implications? It’s an issue that also arises in Anthony Trollope’s “Barchester Towers.”

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Child Heroines Who Die for Our Sins

The child heroine who dies, a common trope in the 19th century, continues to fascinate us, appearing in “Bridge to Tarabithia” and “The Fault Is in Our Stars.” One of my students has this as a senior project topic.

Posted in Alcott (Louisa May), Bronte (Charlotte), Dickens (Charles), Paterson (Katherine), Poe (Edgar Allan), Stowe (Harriet Beecher) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Hearing the Sound of Roses Singing

For Mary Oliver, going into the woods and paying attention to nature is a form of prayer.

Posted in Oliver (Mary) | Also tagged , , | 3 Comments

He Doth Sit By Us and Moan

Last week I was honored by my friend Jean Yeatman when she asked me to sit with her at her mother’s deathbed. We talked about childhood excursions that our families took together and also about the importance of ritual in our lives. Today’s William Blake poem is for her and her brother Clay. Blake finds […]

Posted in Blake (William) | Also tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Please Go Gentle into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle” can be read as a narcissistic desire by young people that their elders will go out on young people’s terms.

Posted in Marlowe (Christopher), Thomas (Dylan), Tolstoy (Leo) | Also tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dying and a Night Powdered with Stars

Oliver Sacks, as he is dying, shares Milton’s wonder at a night sky “powdered with stars.”

Posted in Milton (John) | Also tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Soldier, Rest, Thy Warfare O’er

In “Soldier Rest,” Sir Walter Scott captures how inviting death can look to those caught up in battle’s throes.

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Mourning Lincoln, Mourning My Son

Whitman’s mourning of Lincoln in “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” also captures what it feels like to lose a child.

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A Fatal Diagnosis, an Almost Ghost

A good friend has just been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, putting me in mind of a poem by Lucille Clifton when she learned of her husband’s lung cancer diagnosis.

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Whitman’s Poem a Lesson for War Hawks

In “The Wound-Binder,” Walt Whitman refuses to glorify war and only shows its bloody aftermath–a good thing to remember on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s final day.

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Hoping against Hope in the Face of Death

Following philosopher Adrienne Martin, I meditate on what it means to “hope against hope” or to have “unimaginable hope.” The texts I use are “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” “Beowulf,” and “Wizard of Earthsea.”

Posted in Beowulf Poet, LeGuin (Ursula K.), Sir Gawain Poet | Also tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

San Luis Rey, a Bridge of Love

Wilder’s “Bridge of San Luis Rey” is a powerful book for those who have lost friends.

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Singing a Lullaby to a Dead Child

I write about the lullaby I sang to my dead son and a Eugene Field poem it reminds me of.

Posted in Field (Eugene) | Also tagged , , | 5 Comments

Can Donne Help Us Cope with Death?

Meditations on Margaret Edson’s “W;t”–with further reflections on whether Donne’s poetry can help us handle death.

Posted in Brown (Margaret Wise), Donne (John), Edson (Margaret), Justus (May), Shakespeare (William) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How the Dead Talk to Us

Naomi Shihab Nye finds that the dead talk to us through the new closeness that we experience with those who remain.

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Trying (and Failing) to Shield Our Love

Stephen Crane captures the agony of loss.

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A Message from the Mower in the Dew

Robert Frost’s “Tuft of Flowers” helped me grieve for my son in ways I am only beginning to understand.

Posted in Frost (Robert) | Also tagged , , , | 4 Comments

He Sleeps Less Cold Than We Who Wake

Wilfred Owen’s “Asleep” looks with sorrow at the death of a comrade.

Posted in Owen (Wilfred) | Also tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

A Child’s Connection with the Dead

Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven” captured my son’s sense of connection with his dead brother.

Posted in Wordsworth (William) | Also tagged , , | 3 Comments

Where Are the Games of Yesteryear?

Christmas I shared “Ballad of the Games of Yesteryear” this past spring when my father temporarily lapsed into dementia. But he wrote it as a Christmas poem and so I’m posting it again as I mourn the first Christmas spent without him. Now that he is dead, the poem contains special meaning, echoing as it […]

Posted in Villon (Francois) | Also tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

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