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Death is inevitable. The effect of death on different people can vary greatly. Some may choose to obtain pleasure from the nostalgic memories of a lost loved one, some may see death as a reminder to love more, and some may even choose to avoid facing the harsh truth that death presents.
Alice Walker, in “Poem at Thirty-Nine”, tried to explore the warmth of a parental relationship. Judy Brunette, in “Dad”, attempted to memorize the same. “A Mother in a Refugee Camp” by Chinua Achebe showed how powerful a mother’s love is in the face of death, which is similar to “Funeral Blues” by W. H. Auden. Christina Rossetti tried to use her poem “Remember” to show how we could alleviate the reality of her death to her relatives and friends. The theme of “Don’t fear death” by Aleksandr Blok is similar.
All these poets have taken different perspectives on death; however, from all these poems, the poets all aware that death is unavoidable. We, as humans, usually feel depressed after the death of someone. However, it is actually our choice to decide on how death should mean to us. In reality, the actual level of depression would often depend on several factors, including how long you have known the deceased and the relationship between you and the deceased. Without any hesitations, the relationship between a mother and a son should always be the most intimate one.
In “A Mother in a Refugee Camp”, the poet, Chinua Achebe, demonstrates the horror of a refugee camp from the very beginning, through a tone filled with pain and despair. “The air was heavy with odors of diarrhea” illustrates the unimaginable living conditions in which the people in the refugee camp was suffering. The severe description used by the poet strongly emphasises the disgust and terror he feels for such an environment and the subject of death remains subtly behind his words. Moreover, it also shows the constricting feeling that death gives. Throughout the poem, we can realise that death is definitely not a light issue.
Furthermore, Achebe uses strong imagery to describe the true horror of death. For example, the adjective “rust-colored” is used to describe the hair of the child, “rust” suggesting the long suffering endured by the victim. He ends this line with the word “skull”, which, as a symbolic image of death again highlights this particular topic. When we need to face death, different people will have different responses. An example of this would be giving up, avoiding the truth or struggling for survival.
The poet also uses “a ghost-smile” to convey a threat behind the mother’s smile, connecting the character herself to death. It almost suggests that “death” has won the mother over, and it is the “ghost” that is smiling to the child. As death approaches, a smile from the bottom of the heart may be the most desirable thing, which again emphasises how much the mother in the refugee camp truly loves her son. To conclude, death does not mean we should give up, but to love more.
Upon conducting research on the background of Chinua Achebe, the poem was written when Chinua Achebe accepted a request to serve as a foreign representative in Africa. During his life, Chinua Achebe has travelled to many cities. The poem was his personal experience during the trip. The poem had shown Chinua Achebe’s disappointment towards the living standard of the people in Africa. But to Chinua Achebe, death means the permanent loss of something. And prior to such loss, we should struggle before death.
In “Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden, the outstanding theme would be the sorrow of the death of a close family member. Similar to “A Mother in a Refugee Camp” by Chinua Achebe, the impact of a family member’s death is filled with overwhelming grief. In “Funeral Blues”, although the poet did not directly describe who the deceased was, it was later discovered the poem was written for Auden’s deceased father.
W. H. Auden adopted a pessimistic approach on the question as to how we should face death. In the line, W. H. Auden mentioned “He is Dead”. He capitalised the word “He” and “Dead”, strongly emphasising the overwhelming force and emotion when Auden experienced the death of his father.
To describe the “necks of the public”, Auden uses the word “white”, which often symbolises purity, innocence, and serenity. On the other hand, Auden illustrates the “cotton gloves” on the traffic policemen as “black”, which is a stark contrast to “white”, perhaps in what they signify as well. “Black” is often used to convey gloom and morbidity. Traffic policemen are known to control and maintain discipline of the public; however, by using “black cotton gloves” by the “traffic policemen”, perhaps Auden is trying to convey that death is a subject that is completely out of our control.
Auden uses “my North, my South, my East, and my West” to describe his father, which are the point of all directions on a compass. Using this description, Auden emphasises that his father held a leading role in his life, and that his father is still with him wherever he goes. However, Auden progresses to mention “I thought that love would last forever: but I was wrong”. In this sentence, Auden confesses that although he thought the love of someone could continue forever, death harshly proves this to be false. When death occurs, we can lose everything and become completely hopeless. After the death of his father, Auden claims that he did not even want the “stars”. Stars are often used to represent hopes, achievements, and success, and are also known to help identify locations and directions. Thus Auden is implying that when he lost his father, he has lost the meaning of life. Death has a terrific meaning to him.
After reading “Funeral Blues”, I was overwhelmed with memories of my own grandfather’s funeral. The poem is able to draw such strong emotions and personal situations from the reader that he can both sympathise and empathise with W.H. Auden, as he describes the death of his father
In “Remember”, Christina Rossetti conveys that death may not always be a negative matter, or the root of grief and loss. Death can be interpreted differently by every single person, and no one’s perspective is the same. For Christina Rossetti, an English poet and a Anglo-Catholic, religion most likely played a predominant role in her life. Throughout her experiences, she is able to illustrate a brighter, more optimistic side to death in her poem, “Remember”.
No one knows what happens after death. Christina Rossetti describes her opinion as a “silent land”. Silence is often used to describe environments of peace and noiselessness, where there is no conflict, no war. In modern society, such places are scarce, and are often limited to libraries and churches, where normal citizens go simply to concentrate and think, without any interruptions or disturbances. To Christina Rossetti, the world after death is one of serenity, where we have a place where we will not be bothered forever without any problems and horrors in the surrounding environment. Furthermore, we will be able to listen to the silence and think about ourselves.
In the poem, Christina Rossetti attempts to convince the reader to see death through her perspective. The death of a close friend or a family member is clearly a moment of pain and grief; however as time progresses, a smile will eventually appear on our face as we let them go, and instead of living in the past, we move onto the future, the good and better memories imprinted in our minds to keep us company. To the poet, death teaches us to truly treasure our family and our friends, and to value what we have and not take things for granted. Christina Rossetti introduces an entirely different view of death to the reader by teaching them that death can happen when we least expect it, and we should enjoy life to the fullest while we still can. Death can also be considered as the line between the dead and living, a boundary that prevents people from ever seeing or meeting their deceased loved ones. However no matter how depressing this thought may be, Christina Rossetti is able to use this aspect as a reminder, of how we should love the people around us before they are unwillingly and uncontrollably taken away from us.
The positive meaning of death is also supported by “Don’t fear death” by Aleksandr Blok. Aleksandr Blok was born in an intellectual and educated family. Aleksandr Blok begins the poem with a commanding opening, immediately assuring the reader to “Don’t fear death in earthly travels. Don’t fear enemies or friends.” Death is a concept which is generally regarded with fear by most people, if not all, as death literally is the end to one’s life. Enemies are the people who we meet and loathe, whereas friends are the ones we treasure. The phrase “Don’t fear” quickly demonstrates Aleksandor Blok’s perspective on death that it is a neutral matter. Blok uses “a dawn’s favor” and “Eternal Reign” to convey his opinion of life after death. As “eternal” is a word often associated with religion and heaven, it subtly hints that the world after death is beautiful and forever-lasting. Blok describes the world that we live in now, as we are still alive, as “a slave of life”. Slavery is a horrific issue, one where people are submitted to various constraints and limitations, and has no free will of his own. Therefore it is clear that Aleksandr Blok eagerly anticipates the life after death is an escape from the world we live in.
“Poem at Thirty-Nine” is written by Alice Walker based on her personal experience – her life after the death of her father. The poet repeatedly expresses “How I miss my father” throughout the poem, a simple and direct reminder of the sadness and loss she feels over her father’s death. Walker mentions that many of her truths must have “grieved” him. “Grieve” is often used to express a reaction towards an unhappy event, thus Walker may be trying to illustrate that her father was somewhat disappointed with Alice before his death. By using “before the end” to describe the death of her father, Walker uses this euphemism to express that death truly is a permanent ending. To the poet, death makes us realise that we should treasure what we have before “the end”. When we experience the death of a close friend or family member, we should learn from it, learn “to admire” and stay positive. Thus, when our time does come, we have no regrets. Furthermore, this poem reminds us that death is not just a sad time of grief and loss; it also teaches and reminds us of the happiness we should value.
The poem “Dad” by Judy Brunette similarly describes the relationship between the poet and her father, where she writes a memorial of him, after his death of a heart attack. She explains “Yet in my turning… it seems the sound has been erased” which illustrates that even though he is dead, she still hears his voice, emphasising the importance of him in her life. “Erased” usually describes permanent removal or deletion, which the poet stresses how irreversible death is, and how it is completely out of our control. However, similar to “Poem at Thirty-Nine” by Alice Walker, the period after death may be plagued with depression and sorrow, yet it is always also filled with remembrances. As the poem reaches to a finish, Judy Brunette reminds us that “Years may come and go but your memory will never be erased”. The repetition of this word emphasises that although death is completely out of our control, we can still maintain our life the way we want it to be, even after the death of someone important.
In the poem, Judy used “consumed” to describe how she spent her time with her father. Judy also mentioned in the poem that she “consumed” her father’s love and smile. “Consumed” usually means the use of something which will be dissipated or used up without refill, such as food, fuel and electricity. However, the use of “consumed” by Judy gives the meaning that if we cannot treasure the time before the death of someone important to us, it would be like we are wasting the limited opportunity to spend time and stay together with that person. In other words, the meaning of death that Judy brings out is, more or less similar to Alice, death reminds us remembrances and our limitations. Furthermore, even though we, as human, cannot evade or get away from death, death is a chance for us to grow up and be independent, as we will have no chance to rely on someone we used to rely on after his death or departure.
To conclude, we all have to face death. However, what death means to us will depend on the view of different people. After reading the above six poems, I have struggled to think what death should mean to us – whether it should be viewed as positive as in “Don’t fear death” or is death the end of everything as in the “Funeral Blues”?
There are no absolute answers on the meaning of death. Personally, I do not believe that there is another world after death. However, to me, the meaning of death is we should learn to treasure the things we have during our lifetime, which is similar to the view of Judy and Alice in “Dad” and “Poem at Thirty-Nine” respectively. In order to not allow any regrets to myself after the death of my parents, I should live happily as long as I am alive, and to reward my parents as much as I can before the day I would not have such opportunity.
Given the uncertainty of death, we should always stay happy and positive. To me, that’s the meaning of death.
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