Tag Archives: death and dying

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 , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Owen (Wilfred), Scott (Sir Walter) | Also tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Walt Whitman | Also tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

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 text 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

For Sontag, Purpose of Lit Was Change

Susan Sontag loved literature because she craved “new blood and new nourishment and new inspiration.”

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Our Strands Grow Richer With Each Loss

May Sarton’s beautiful poem “All Souls” reminds us that our dead continue to move through us.

Posted in Sarton (May) | Also tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My Father Moved through Dooms of Love

At my father’s memorial service, we read poems by e.e. cummings, Shakespeare, Jacques Prévert, and my father himself.

Posted in Bates (Scott), cummings (e.e.), Shakespeare (William) | Also tagged , , | 9 Comments

Farewell to the Boy with the Golden Crown

Yesterday at my father’s memorial service I read ones of his poems about the recurrent cycle of life.

Posted in Bates (Scott) | Also tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Song of Night’s Sweet Bird

Shelley’s elegy to Keats, “Adonais,” gives us a rich vision of our relationship with death.

Posted in Keats (John), Shelley (Percy) | Also tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Green Knight’s Lessons on Death & Dying

My next book will be on what “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” teaches us about death and dying.

Posted in Sir Gawain Poet | Also tagged | 3 Comments

Carrying on a Poetic Quest after a Death

Now that my father has died, my mother will be taking on sole responsibility for the local newspaper’s poetry column.

Posted in McMurtry (Larry) | Also tagged , | 2 Comments

Poetry vs. Death’s Madness

In the face of death, poetry stands as a bulwark against dissolution, chaos, and madness.

Posted in Dickens (Charles), Dunnett (Dorothy), McGrath (Thomas), O'Driscoll (Ciaran), Vonnegut (Kurt) | Also tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Time for Silence

Silence can be a very powerful response to tragedy.

Posted in Bible | Also tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Waiting for the Tide to Turn

Dickinson, Coleridge and Dickens come to mind as we await the moment of my father’s death.

Posted in Coleridge (Samuel Taylor), Dickens (Charles), Dickinson (Emily) | Also tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Moving through Death’s Doorway

My father’s poem about Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl” is comforting me as he slides towards death.

Posted in Andersen (Hans Christian), Bates (Scott) | Also tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Magnificent Women in the Sick Room

Tolstoy shows us deathbed vigils can spur us to a deeper engagement with life.

Posted in Donne (John), Eliot (George), Thomas (R. S.), Tolstoy (Leo) | Also tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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