50 Greatest Poems About Death

Death often comes without unspecified time or date. Most of the time, we would just be surprised that someone close to us had already died. It’s more of a shock rather than a surprise. Well, who would not be surprised by this untimely event?

That is why it’s agreeable that almost everyone is afraid of death. These are fifty (50) greatest poems about death. Even poets created masterpieces about death, and if you are interested in it, these poems are for you.

Keep reading!

A Death

Crushed with a burden of woe,
Wrecked in the tempest of sin:
Death came, and two lips murmured low,
“Ah! once I was white as the snow,
In the happy and pure long ago;
But they say God is sweet — is it so?
Will He let a poor wayward one in —
In where the innocent are?
Ah! justice stands guard at the gate;
Does it mock at a poor sinner’s fate?
Alas! I have fallen so far!
Oh, God! Oh, my God! ’tis too late!
I have fallen as falls a lost star:

“The sky does not miss the gone gleam,
But my heart, like the lost star, can dream
Of the sky it has fall’n from. Nay!
I have wandered too far — far away.
Oh! would that my mother were here;
Is God like a mother? Has He
Any love for a sinner like me?”

Her face wore the wildness of woe —
Her words, the wild tones of despair;
Ah! how can a heart sink so low?
How a face that was once bright and so fair,
Can be furrowed and darkened with care?
Wild rushed the hot tears from her eyes,
From her lips rushed the wildest of sighs,
Her poor heart was broken; but then
Her God was far gentler than men.

A voice whispered low at her side,
“Child! God is more gentle than men,
He watches by passion’s dark tide,
He sees a wreck drifting — and then
He beckons with hand and with voice,
And he sees the poor wreck floating in
To the haven on Mercy’s bright shore;
And He whispers the whisper of yore:
`The angels of heaven rejoice
O’er the sinner repenting of sin.'”

* * * * *

And a silence came down for a while,
And her lips they were moving in prayer,
And her face it wore just such a smile
As, perhaps, it was oft wont to wear,
Ere the heart of the girl knew a guile,
Ere the soul of the girl knew the wile,
That had led her to passion’s despair.
Death’s shadows crept over her face,
And softened the hard marks of care;
Repentance had won a last grace,
And the Angel of Mercy stood there.

Abram Joseph Ryan

A Death Song.

What cometh here from west to east awending?
And who are these, the marchers stern and slow?
We bear the message that the rich are sending
Aback to those who bade them wake and know.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.

We asked them for a life of toilsome earning,
They bade us bide their leisure for our bread;
We craved to speak to tell our woeful learning:
We come back speechless, bearing back our dead.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.

They will not learn; they have no ears to hearken.
They turn their faces from the eyes of fate;
Their gay-lit halls shut out the skies that darken.
But, lo! this dead man knocking at the gate.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.

Here lies the sign that we shall break our prison;
Amidst the storm he won a prisoner’s rest;
But in the cloudy dawn the sun arisen
Brings us our day of work to win the best.
Not one, not one, nor thousands must they slay,
But one and all if they would dusk the day.

William Morris


Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon
Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone —
Man has created death.

William Butler Yeats


Death is a road our dearest friends have gone;
Why with such leaders, fear to say, ‘Lead on?’
Its gate repels, lest it too soon be tried,
But turns in balm on the immortal side.
Mothers have passed it: fathers, children; men
Whose like we look not to behold again;
Women that smiled away their loving breath;
Soft is the travelling on the road to death!
But guilt has passed it? men not fit to die?
O, hush’for He that made us all is by!
Human we’re all’all men, all born of mothers;
All our own selves in the worn-out shape of others;
Our used, and oh, be sure, not to be ill-used brothers!

James Henry Leigh Hunt


He, born of my girlhood, is dead, while my life is yet young in my heart
Ere the breasts where his baby lips fed have forgotten their softness, we part.
We part. He was mine, he was here, though he travelled by land and by sea,
My son who could trample on fear, my babe who was moulded in me.
As I sat in the darkness, it seemed I could still feel his touch on my head;
He came in the night as I dreamed, and he knelt at the side of my bed;
He murmured the words I had taught when his lips were the lips of a child,
Ere the strength of his arm had been bought and the love that upheld him defiled;
Then my faltering spirit grew bold, and my heart had forgotten its drouth,
And I crooned little songs as of old, till I woke at his kiss on my mouth.
Now waking and sleeping are pain. Nevermore will he kiss, nevermore
Shall I hear his low whistle again at the gate, or his step on the floor,
For to-night he was here while I slept, and this is the end of it all.
Now that welter of darkness has swept us apart, can he come if I call?
Can he come, little chap with the eyes that brought light out of heaven to earth?
Can he come, though the soul of me cries for the joy that I bought by his birth?
I can see but the horror that bids the heart of the mother despair,
The vision that burns on my lids, the face that will always be there,
For he holds out his hands to me, red, and his eyes tell the truth as he stands.
He is dead. He is dead. He is dead. He is dead, with the blood on his hands.

John Le Gay Brereton


The awful seers of old, who wrote in words
Like drops of blood great thoughts that through the night
Of ages burn, as eyes of lions light
Deep jungle-dusks; who smote with songs like swords
The soul of man on its most secret chords,
And made the heart of him a harp to smite,
Where are they? where that old man lorn of sight,
The king of song among these laurelled lords?
But where are all the ancient singing-spheres
That burst through chaos like the summer’s breath
Through ice-bound seas where never seaman steers?
Burnt out. Gone down. No star remembereth
These stars and seers well-silenced through the years
The songless years of everlasting death.

Victor James Daley


Death! that struck when I was most confiding.
In my certain faith of joy to be,
Strike again, Time’s withered branch dividing
From the fresh root of Eternity!

Leaves, upon Time’s branch, were growing brightly,
Full of sap, and full of silver dew;
Birds beneath its shelter gathered nightly;
Daily round its flowers the wild bees flew.

Sorrow passed, and plucked the golden blossom;
Guilt stripped off the foliage in its pride
But, within its parent’s kindly bosom,
Flowed for ever Life’s restoring tide.

Little mourned I for the parted gladness,
For the vacant nest and silent song,
Hope was there, and laughed me out of sadness;
Whispering, “Winter will not linger long!”

And, behold! with tenfold increase blessing,
Spring adorned the beauty-burdened spray;
Wind and rain and fervent heat, caressing,
Lavished glory on that second May!

High it rose, no winged grief could sweep it;
Sin was scared to distance with its shine;
Love, and its own life, had power to keep it
From all wrong, from every blight but thine!

Cruel Death! The young leaves droop and languish;
Evening’s gentle air may still restore,
No! the morning sunshine mocks my anguish-
Time, for me, must never blossom more!

Strike it down, that other boughs may flourish
Where that perished sapling used to be;
Thus, at least, its mouldering corpse will nourish
That from which it sprung, Eternity.

Emily Bronte


Why should man’s high aspiring mind
Burn in him with so proud a breath,
When all his haughty views can find
In this world yields to death?
The fair, the brave, the vain, the wise,
The rich, the poor, the great, and small,
Are each but worm’s anatomies
To strew his quiet hall.

Power may make many earthly gods,
Where gold and bribery’s guilt prevails,
But death’s unwelcome, honest odds
Kick o’er the unequal scales.
The flattered great may clamours raise
Of power, and their own weakness hide,
But death shall find unlooked-for ways
To end the farce of pride,

An arrow hurtled eer so high,
From een a giant’s sinewy strength,
In Time’s untraced eternity
Goes but a pigmy length;
Nay, whirring from the tortured string,
With all its pomp of hurried flight,
Tis by the skylark’s little wing
Outmeasured in its height.

Just so man’s boasted strength and power
Shall fade before death’s lightest stroke,
Laid lower than the meanest flower,
Whose pride oer-topt the oak;
And he who, like a blighting blast,
Dispeopled worlds with war’s alarms
Shall be himself destroyed at last
By poor despised worms.

Tyrants in vain their powers secure,
And awe slaves’ murmurs with a frown,
For unawed death at last is sure
To sap the babels down.
A stone thrown upward to the sky
Will quickly meet the ground agen;
So men-gods of earth’s vanity
Shall drop at last to men;

And Power and Pomp their all resign,
Blood-purchased thrones and banquet halls.
Fate waits to sack Ambition’s shrine
As bare as prison walls,
Where the poor suffering wretch bows down
To laws a lawless power hath passed;
And pride, and power, and king, and clown
Shall be Death’s slaves at last.

Time, the prime minister of Death!
There’s nought can bribe his honest will.
He stops the richest tyrant’s breath
And lays his mischief still.
Each wicked scheme for power all stops,
With grandeurs false and mock display,
As eve’s shades from high mountain tops
Fade with the rest away.

Death levels all things in his march;
Nought can resist his mighty strength;
The palace proud, triumphal arch,
Shall mete its shadow’s length.
The rich, the poor, one common bed
Shall find in the unhonoured grave,
Where weeds shall crown alike the head
Of tyrant and of slave.

John Clare


The winds and waters are in his command,
Held as a courser in the rider’s hand.
He lets them loose, they triumph at his will:
He checks their course and all is calm and still.
Life’s hopes waste all to nothingness away
As showers at night wash out the steps of day.

* * * * *

The tyrant, in his lawless power deterred,
Bows before death, tame as a broken sword.
One dyeth in his strength and, torn from ease,
Groans in death pangs like tempests in the trees.
Another from the bitterness of clay
Falls calm as storms drop on an autumn day,
With noiseless speed as swift as summer light
Death slays and keeps her weapons out of sight.

The tyrants that do act the God in clay
And for earth’s glories throw the heavens away,
Whose breath in power did like to thunder sear,
When anger hurried on the heels of fear,
Whose rage planned hosts of murders at a breath–
Here in sound silence sheath their rage in death.

Their feet, that crushed down freedom to its grave
And felt the very earth they trod a slave,
How quiet here they lie in death’s cold arms
Without the power to crush the feeble worms
Who spite of all the dreadful fears they made
Creep there to conquer and are not afraid.

John Clare


Death is like the insect
Menacing the tree,
Competent to kill it,
But decoyed may be.

Bait it with the balsam,
Seek it with the knife,
Baffle, if it cost you
Everything in life.

Then, if it have burrowed
Out of reach of skill,
Ring the tree and leave it, —
‘T is the vermin’s will.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson


Storm and strife and stress,
Lost in a wilderness,
Groping to find a way,
Forth to the haunts of day

Sudden a vista peeps,
Out of the tangled deeps,
Only a point–the ray
But at the end is day.

Dark is the dawn and chill,
Daylight is on the hill,
Night is the flitting breath,
Day rides the hills of death.

Paul Laurence Dunbar


If days should pass without a written word
To tell me of thy welfare, and if days
Should lengthen out to weeks, until the maze
Of questioning fears confused me, and I heard.
Life-sounds as echoes; and one came and said
After these weeks of waiting: “He is dead!”

Though the quick sword had found the vital part,
And the life-blood must mingle with the tears,
I think that, as the dying soldier hears
The cries of victory, and feels his heart
Surge with his country’s triumph-hour, I could
Hope bravely on, and feel that God was good.

I could take up my thread of life again
And weave my pattern though the colors were
Faded forever. Though I might not dare
Dream often of thee, I should know that when
Death came to thee upon thy lips my name
Lingered, and lingers ever without blame.

Aye, lingers ever. Though we may not know
Much that our spirits crave, yet is it given
To us to feel that in the waiting Heaven
Great souls are greater, and if God bestow
A mighty love He will not let it die
Through the vast ages of eternity.

But if some day the bitter knowledge swept
Down on my life, – bearing my treasured freight
To founder on the shoals of scorn, – what Fate
Smiling with awful irony had kept
Till life grew sweeter, – that my god was clay,
That ‘neath thy strength a lurking weakness lay;

That thou, whom I had deemed a man of men
Faulty, as great men are, but with no taint
Of baseness, – with those faults that shew the saint
Of after days, perhaps, – wert even then
When first I loved thee but a spreading tree
Whose leaves shewed not its roots’ deformity;

I should not weep, for there are wounds that lie
Too deep for tears, – and Death is but a friend
Who loves too dearly, and the parting end
Of Love’s joy-day a paltry pain, a cry
To God, then peace, – beside the torturing grief
When honor dies, and trust, and soul’s belief.

Travellers have told that in the Java isles
The upas-tree breathes its dread vapor out
Into the air; there needs no hand about
Its branches for the poison’s deadly wiles
To work a strong man’s hurt, for there is death
Envenomed, noisome, in his every breath.

So would I breathe thy poison in my soul,
Till all that had been wholesome, pure, and true
Shewed its decay, and stained and wasted grew.
Though sundered as the distant Northern Pole
From his far sister, I should bear thy blight
Upon me as I passed into the night.

Didst dream thy truth and honor meant so much
To me, Dear Heart? Oh! I am full of tears
To-night, of longing, love and foolish fears.
Would I might see thee, know thy tender touch,
For Time is long, and though I may not will
To question Fate, I am a woman still.

Sophie M. (Almon) Hensley


Mourn not, my friends, that we are growing old:
A fresher birth brings every new year in.
Years are Christ’s napkins to wipe off the sin.
See now, I’ll be to you an angel bold!
My plumes are ruffled, and they shake with cold,
Yet with a trumpet-blast I will begin.
–Ah, no; your listening ears not thus I win!
Yet hear, sweet sisters; brothers, be consoled:–
Behind me comes a shining one indeed;
Christ’s friend, who from life’s cross did take him down,
And set upon his day night’s starry crown!
Death, say’st thou? Nay–thine be no caitiff creed!–
A woman-angel! see–in long white gown!
The mother of our youth!–she maketh speed.

George MacDonald


When in the bosom of the eldest night
This body lies, cold as a sculptured rest;
When through its shaded windows comes no light,
And its pale hands are folded on its breast–

How shall I fare, who had to wander out,
And of the unknown land the frontier cross,
Peering vague-eyed, uncertain, all about,
Unclothed, mayhap unwelcomed, bathed in loss?

Shall I depart slow-floating like a mist,
Over the city murmuring beneath;
Over the trees and fields, where’er I list,
Seeking the mountain and the lonely heath?

Or will a darkness, o’er material shows
Descending, hide them from the spirit’s sight;
As from the sun a blotting radiance flows
Athwart the stars all glorious through the night;

And the still spirit hang entranced, alone,
Like one in an exalted opium-dream–
Soft-flowing time, insisting space, o’erblown,
With form and colour, tone and touch and gleam,

Thought only waking–thought that may not own
The lapse of ages, or the change of spot;
Its doubt all cast on what it counted known,
Its faith all fixed on what appeareth not?

Or, worn with weariness, shall we sleep until,
Our life restored by long and dreamless rest,
Of God’s oblivion we have drunk our fill,
And wake his little ones, peaceful and blest?

I nothing know, and nothing need to know.
God is; I shall be ever in his sight!
Give thou me strength to labour well, and so
Do my day’s work ere fall my coming night.

George MacDonald


Yes, there is one who makes us all lay down
Our mushroom vanities, our speculations,
Our well-set theories and calculations,
Our workman’s jacket or our monarch’s crown!
To him alike the country and the town,
Barbaric hordes or civilized nations,
Men of all names and ranks and occupations,
Squire, parson, lawyer, Jones, or Smith, or Brown!
He stops the carter: the uplifted whip
Falls dreamily among the horses’ straw;
He stops the helmsman, and the gallant ship
Holdeth to westward by another law;
No one will see him, no one ever saw,
But he sees all and lets not any slip.

George MacDonald


When, like a garment flung aside at night,
This body lies, or sculpture of cold rest;
When through its shaded windows comes no light,
And the white hands are folded on its breast;

How will it be with Me, its tenant now?
How shall I feel when first I wander out?
How look on tears from loved eyes falling? How
Look forth upon dim mysteries round about?

Shall I go forth, slow-floating like a mist,
Over the city with its crowded walls?
Over the trees and meadows where I list?
Over the mountains and their ceaseless falls?

Over the red cliffs and fantastic rocks;
Over the sea, far-down, fleeting away;
White sea-birds shining, and the billowy shocks
Heaving unheard their shore-besieging spray?

Or will a veil, o’er all material things
Slow-falling; hide them from the spirit’s sight;
Even as the veil which the sun’s radiance flings
O’er stars that had been shining all the night?

And will the spirit be entranced, alone,
Like one in an exalted opium-dream–
Time space, and all their varied dwellers gone;
And sunlight vanished, and all things that seem;

Thought only waking; thought that doth not own
The lapse of ages, or the change of place;
Thought, in which only that which is, is known;
The substance here, the form confined to space?

Or as a child that sobs itself to sleep,
Wearied with labour which the grown call play,
Waking in smiles as soon as morn doth peep,
Springs up to labour all the joyous day,

Shall we lie down, weary; and sleep, until
Our souls be cleansed by long and dreamless rest;
Till of repose we drink our thirsting fill,
And wake all peaceful, smiling, pure, and blest?

I know not–only know one needful thing:
God is; I shall be ever in His view;
I only need strength for the travailing,
Will for the work Thou givest me to do.

George MacDonald


I am the outer gate of life where sit
Faith and Unfaith, those two interpreters
That spell in diverse ways what God has writ
In symbols on the archway of the years.
Backward I swing for many feet to pass;
Some come in stormy haste, some grave and slow,
And all like windy shadows on the grass:
Beyond my pale I know not where they go.

Charles Hamilton Musgrove


Out of the shadows of sadness,
Into the sunshine of gladness,
Into the light of the blest;
Out of a land very dreary,
Out of a world very weary,
Into the rapture of rest.

Out of to-day’s sin and sorrow,
Into a blissful to-morrow,
Into a day without gloom;
Out of a land filled with sighing,
Land of the dead and the dying,
Into a land without tomb.

Out of a life of commotion,
Tempest-swept oft as the ocean,
Dark with the wrecks drifting o’er;
Into a land calm and quiet,
Never a storm cometh nigh it,
Never a wreck on its shore.

Out of a land in whose bowers
Perish and fade all the flowers:
Out of the land of decay,
Into the Eden where fairest
Of flowerets, and sweetest and rarest,
Never shall wither away.
Out of the world of the wailing
Thronged with the anguished and ailing;
Out of the world of the sad,
Into the world that rejoices —
World of bright visions and voices —
Into the world of the glad.

Out of a life ever mournful,
Out of a land very lornful,
Where in bleak exile we roam,
Into a joy-land above us,
Where there’s a Father to love us —
Into our home — “Sweet Home”.

Abram Joseph Ryan


They die – the dead return not – Misery
Sits near an open grave and calls them over,
A Youth with hoary hair and haggard eye –
They are the names of kindred, friend and lover,
Which he so feebly calls – they all are gone –
Fond wretch, all dead! those vacant names alone,
This most familiar scene, my pain –
These tombs – alone remain.

Misery, my sweetest friend – oh, weep no more!
Thou wilt not be consoled – I wonder not!
For I have seen thee from thy dwelling’s door
Watch the calm sunset with them, and this spot
Was even as bright and calm, but transitory,
And now thy hopes are gone, thy hair is hoary;
This most familiar scene, my pain –
These tombs – alone remain.

_5 calls editions 1839; called 1824.

Percy Bysshe Shelley


Death is here and death is there,
Death is busy everywhere,
All around, within, beneath,
Above is death – and we are death.

Death has set his mark and seal
On all we are and all we feel,
On all we know and all we fear,

First our pleasures die – and then
Our hopes, and then our fears – and when
These are dead, the debt is due,
Dust claims dust – and we die too.

All things that we love and cherish,
Like ourselves must fade and perish;
Such is our rude mortal lot –
Love itself would, did they not.

Percy Bysshe Shelley


‘Tis but to fold the arms in peace,
To close the tear-dimmed, aching eye,
From sin and suffering to cease,
And wake to sinless life on high.

‘Tis but to leave the dusty way
Our pilgrim feet so long have pressed,
And passon angel-wings away,
Forever with the Lord to rest.

‘Tis but with noiseless step to glide
Behind the curtain’s mystic screen
That from our mortal gaze doth hide
The glories of the world unseen.

Tis but to sleep a passing hour,
Serene as cradled infants sleep;
Then wake in glory and in power,
An endless Sabbath day to keep.

Pamela S. Vining, (J. C. Yule)


When I am dead a few poor souls shall grieve
As I grieved for my brother long ago.
Scarce did my eyes grow dim,
I had forgotten him;
I was far-off hearing the spring winds blow,
And many summers burned
When, though still reeling with my eyes aflame,
I heard that faded name
Whispered one Spring amid the hurrying world
From which, years gone, he turned.

I looked up at my windows and I saw
The trees, thin spectres sucked forth by the moon.
The air was very still
Above a distant hill;
It was the hour of night’s full silver moon.
‘O are thou there my brother?’ my soul cried;
And all the pale stars down bright rivers wept,
As my heart sadly crept
About the empty hills, bathed in that light
That lapped him when he died.

Ah! it was cold, so cold; do I not know
How dead my heart on that remembered day!
Clear in a far-away place
I see his delicate face
Just as he called me from my solitary play,
Giving into my hands a tiny tree.
We planted it in the dark, blossomless ground
Gravely, without a sound;
Then back I went and left him standing by
His birthday gift to me.

In that far land perchance it quietly grows
Drinking the rain, making a pleasant shade;
Birds in its branches fly
Out of the fathomless sky
Where worlds of circling light arise and fade.
Blindly it quivers in the bright flood of day,
Or drowned in multitudinous shouts of rain
Glooms o’er the dark-veiled plain –
Buried below, the ghost that’s in his bones
Dreams in the sodden clay.

And, while he faded, drunk with beauty’s eyes
I kissed bright girls and laughed deep in dumb trees,
That stared fixt in the air
Like madmen in despair
Gaped up from earth with the escaping breeze.
I saw earth’s exaltation slowly creep
Out of their myriad sky-embracing veins.
I laughed along the lanes,
Meeting Death riding in from the hollow seas
Through black-wreathed woods asleep.

I laughed, I swaggered on the cold hard ground –
Through the grey air trembled a falling wave –
‘Thou’rt pale, O Death!’ I cried,
Mocking him in my pride;
And passing I dreamed not of that lonely grave,
But of leaf-maidens whose pale, moon-like hands
Above the tree-foam waved in the icy air,
Sweeping with shining hair
Through the green-tinted sky, one moment fled
Out of immortal lands.

One windless Autumn night the Moon came out
In a white sea of cloud, a field of snow;
In darkness shaped of trees,
I sank upon my knees
And watched her shining, from the small wood below –
Faintly Death flickered in an owl’s far cry – –
We floated soundless in the great gulf of space,
Her light upon my face –
Immortal, shining in that dark wood I knelt
And knew I could not die.

And knew I could not die – O Death, didst thou
Heed my vain glory, standing pale by thy dead?
There is a spirit who grieves
Amid earth’s dying leaves;
Was’t thou that wept beside my brother’s bed?
For I did never mourn nor heed at all
Him passing on his temporal elm-wood bier;
I never shed a tear.
The drooping sky spread grey-winged through my soul,
While stones and earth did fall.

That sound rings down the years – I hear it yet –
All earthly life’s a winding funeral –
And though I never wept,
But into the dark coach stept,
Dreaming by night to answer the blood’s sweet call,
She who stood there, high-breasted, with small, wise lips,
And gave me wine to drink and bread to eat,
Has not more steadfast feet,
But fades from my arms as fade from mariners’ eyes
The sea’s most beauteous ships.

The trees and hills of earth were once as close
As my own brother, they are becoming dreams
And shadows in my eyes;
More dimly lies
Guaya deep in my soul, the coastline gleams
Faintly along the darkening crystalline seas.
Glimmering and lovely still, ’twill one day go;
The surging dark will flow
Over my hopes and joys, and blot out all
Earth’s hills and skies and trees.

I shall look up one night and see the Moon
For the last time shining above the hills,
And thou, silent, wilt ride
Over the dark hillside.
‘Twill be, perchance, the time of daffodils –
‘How come those bright immortals in the woods? Their joy being young, didst thou not drag them all Into dark graves ere Fall?’
Shall life thus haunt me, wondering, as I go
To thy deep solitudes?

There is a figure with a down-turned torch
Carved on a pillar in an olden time,
A calm and lovely boy
Who comes not to destroy
But to lead age back to its golden prime.
Thus did an antique sculptor draw thee, Death,
With smooth and beauteous brow and faint sweet smile,
Not haggard, gaunt and vile,
And thou perhaps art thus to whom men may,
Unvexed, give up their breath.

But in my soul thou sittest like a dream
Among earth’s mountains, by her dim-coloured seas;
A wild unearthly Shape
In thy dark-glimmering cape,
Piping a tune of wavering melodies,
Thou sittest, ay, thou sittest at the feast
Of my brief life among earth’s bright-wreathed flowers,
Staining the dancing hours
With sombre gleams until, abrupt, thou risest
And all, at once, is ceased.

W.J. Turner


Sonnet XVIII Death. Love Letters of a Violinist by Eric MacKay, illustration by James Fagan


It is the joy, it is the zest of life,
To know that Death, ungainly to the vile,
Is not a traitor with a reckless knife,
And not a serpent with a look of guile,
But one who greets us with a seraph’s smile, –
An angel – guest to tend us after strife,
And keep us true to God when fears are rife,
And sceptic thought would daunt us or defile.
He walks the world as one empower’d to fill
The fields of space for Father and for Son.
He is our friend, though morbidly we shun
His tender touch, – a cure for every ill.
He is the king of peace, when all is done.
Earth and the air are moulded to his will.

Eric Mackay

Death and Birth

Death and birth should dwell not near together:
Wealth keeps house not, even for shame, with dearth:
Fate doth ill to link in one brief tether
Death and birth.

Harsh the yoke that binds them, strange the girth
Seems that girds them each with each: yet whether
Death be best, who knows, or life on earth?

Ill the rose-red and the sable feather
Blend in one crown’s plume, as grief with mirth:
Ill met still are warm and wintry weather,
Death and birth.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

Death And Life.

Apparently with no surprise
To any happy flower,
The frost beheads it at its play
In accidental power.
The blond assassin passes on,
The sun proceeds unmoved
To measure off another day
For an approving God.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

Death And The Dying.

Death never taketh by surprise
The well-prepared, to wit, the wise –
They knowing of themselves the time
To meditate the final change of clime.
That time, alas! embraces all
Which into hours and minutes we divide;
There is no part, however small,
That from this tribute one can hide.
The very moment, oft, which bids
The heirs of empire see the light
Is that which shuts their fringed lids
In everlasting night.
Defend yourself by rank and wealth,
Plead beauty, virtue, youth, and health, –
Unblushing Death will ravish all;
The world itself shall pass beneath his pall.
No truth is better known; but, truth to say,
No truth is oftener thrown away.

A man, well in his second century,
Complain’d that Death had call’d him suddenly;
Had left no time his plans to fill,
To balance books, or make his will.
‘O Death,’ said he, ‘d’ ye call it fair,
Without a warning to prepare,
To take a man on lifted leg?
O, wait a little while, I beg.
My wife cannot be left alone;
I must set out my nephew’s son,
And let me build my house a wing,
Before you strike, O cruel king!’
‘Old man,’ said Death, ‘one thing is sure, –
My visit here’s not premature.
Hast thou not lived a century!
Darest thou engage to find for me?
In Paris’ walls two older men
Has France, among her millions ten?
Thou say’st I should have sent thee word
Thy lamp to trim, thy loins to gird,
And then my coming had been meet –
Thy will engross’d,
Thy house complete!
Did not thy feelings notify?
Did not they tell thee thou must die?
Thy taste and hearing are no more;
Thy sight itself is gone before;
For thee the sun superfluous shines,
And all the wealth of Indian mines;
Thy mates I’ve shown thee dead or dying.
What’s this, indeed, but notifying?
Come on, old man, without reply;
For to the great and common weal
It doth but little signify
Whether thy will shall ever feel
The impress of thy hand and seal.’

And Death had reason, – ghastly sage!
For surely man, at such an age,
Should part from life as from a feast,
Returning decent thanks, at least,
To Him who spread the various cheer,
And unrepining take his bier;
For shun it long no creature can.
Repinest thou, grey-headed man?
See younger mortals rushing by
To meet their death without a sigh –
Death full of triumph and of fame,
But in its terrors still the same. –
But, ah! my words are thrown away!
Those most like Death most dread his sway.

Jean de La Fontaine

Death And The Fool

Here is a tale for any man or woman:
A fool sought Death; and braved him with his bauble
Among the graves. At last he heard a hobble,
And something passed him, monstrous, super-human.
And by a tomb, that reared a broken column,
He heard it stop. And then Gargantuan laughter
Shattered the hush. Deep silence followed after,
Filled with the stir of bones, cadaverous, solemn.
Then said the fool:”Come! show thyself, old prancer!
I’ll have a bout with thee. I, too, can clatter
My wand and motley. Come now! Death and Folly,
See who’s the better man.” There was no answer;
Only his bauble broke; a serious matter
To the poor fool who died of melancholy.

Madison Julius Cawein

Death And The Unfortunate.

A poor unfortunate, from day to day,
Call’d Death to take him from this world away.
‘O Death’ he said, ‘to me how fair thy form!
Come quick, and end for me life’s cruel storm.’
Death heard, and with a ghastly grin,
Knock’d at his door, and enter’d in
‘Take out this object from my sight!’
The poor man loudly cried.
‘Its dreadful looks I can’t abide;
O stay him, stay him’ let him come no nigher;
O Death! O Death! I pray thee to retire!’

A gentleman of note
In Rome, Maecenas, somewhere wrote: –
“Make me the poorest wretch that begs,
Sore, hungry, crippled, clothed in rags,
In hopeless impotence of arms and legs;
Provided, after all, you give
The one sweet liberty to live:
I’ll ask of Death no greater favour
Than just to stay away for ever.”

Jean de La Fontaine

Death At The Window

This morning, while we sat in talk
Of spring and apple-bloom,
Lo! Death stood in the garden walk,
And peered into the room.

Your back was turned, you did not see
The shadow that he made.
He bent his head and looked at me;
It made my soul afraid.

The words I had begun to speak
Fell broken in the air.
You saw the pallor of my cheek,
And turned–but none was there.

He came as sudden as a thought,
And so departed too.
What made him leave his task unwrought?
It was the sight of you.

Though Death but seldom turns aside
From those he means to take,
He would not yet our hearts divide,
For love and pity’s sake.

Robert Fuller Murray

A Death-Bed

“This is the State above the Law.
The State exists for the State alone.”
[This is a gland at the back of the jaw,
And an answering lump by the collar-bone.],
Some die shouting in gas or fire;
Some die silent, by shell and shot.
Some die desperate, caught on the wire;
Some die suddenly.
This will not.
“Regis suprema voluntas Lex”
[It will follow the regular course of throats.]
Some die pinned by the broken decks,
Some die sobbing between the boats.
Some die eloquent, pressed to death
By the sliding trench, as their friends can hear.
Some die wholly in half a breath.
Some give trouble for half a year.
“There is neither Evil nor Good in life
Except as the needs of the State ordain.”
[Since it is rather too late for the knife,
All we can do is to mask the pain.]
Some die saintly in faith and hope,
One died thus in a prison-yard,
Some die broken by rape or the rope;
Some die easily.
This dies hard.
“I will dash to pieces who bar my way.
Woe to the traitor!
Woe to the weak!”
[Let him write what he wishes to say.
It tires him out if he tries to speak.]
Some die quietly.
Some abound In loud self-pity.
Others spread Bad morale through the cots around…
This is a type that is better dead.
“The war was forced on me by my foes.
All that I sought was the right to live.”
[Don’t be afraid of a triple dose;
The pain will neutralize all we give.
Here are the needles.
See that he dies
While the effects of the drug endure….
What is the question he asks with his eyes?,
Yes, All-Highest, to God, be sure.]

Rudyard Kipling

A Death-Blow Is A Life-Blow To Some

A death-blow is a life-blow to some
Who, till they died, did not alive become;
Who, had they lived, had died, but when
They died, vitality begun.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

Death Chant

Viewless essence, thin and bare,
Well nigh melted into air,
Still with fondness hovering near
The earthly form thou once didst wear,

Pause upon thy pinion’s flight;
Be thy course to left or right,
Be thou doomed to soar or sink,
Pause upon the awful brink.

To avenge the deed expelling
Thee untimely from thy dwelling,
Mystic force thou shalt retain
O’er the blood and o’er the brain.

When the form thou shalt espy
That darken’d on thy closing eye,
When the footstep thou shalt hear
That thrill’d upon thy dying ear,

Then strange sympathies shall wake,
The flesh shall thrill, the nerves shall quake,
The wounds renew their clotter’d flood,
And every drop cry blood for blood!

Walter Scott (Sir)

A Death-Day Recalled

Beeny did not quiver,
Juliot grew not gray,
Thin Valency’s river
Held its wonted way.
Bos seemed not to utter
Dimmest note of dirge,
Targan mouth a mutter
To its creamy surge.

Yet though these, unheeding,
Listless, passed the hour
Of her spirit’s speeding,
She had, in her flower,
Sought and loved the places –
Much and often pined
For their lonely faces
When in towns confined.

Why did not Valency
In his purl deplore
One whose haunts were whence he
Drew his limpid store?
Why did Bos not thunder,
Targan apprehend
Body and breath were sunder
Of their former friend?

Thomas Hardy

The Death-Dream

Who, now, put dreams into thy slumbering mind?
Who, with bright Fear’s lean taper, crossed a hand
Athwart its beam, and stooping, truth maligned,
Spake so thy spirit speech should understand,
And with a dread “He’s dead!” awaked a peal
Of frenzied bells along the vacant ways
Of thy poor earthly heart; waked thee to steal,
Like dawn distraught upon unhappy days,
To prove nought, nothing? Was it Time’s large voice
Out of the inscrutable future whispered so?
Or but the horror of a little noise
Earth wakes at dead of night? Or does Love know
When his sweet wings weary and droop, and even
In sleep cries audibly a shrill remorse?
Or, haply, was it I who out of dream
Stole but a little where shadows course,
Called back to thee across the eternal stream?

Walter De La Mare

Death Has Crowned Him A Martyr

(Written on the day of President McKinley’s death)

In the midst of sunny waters, lo! the mighty Ship of State
Staggers, bruised and torn and wounded by a derelict of fate,
One that drifted from its moorings in the anchorage of hate.

On the deck our noble Pilot, in the glory of his prime,
Lies in woe-impelling silence, dead before his hour or time,
Victim of a mind self-centred in a Godless fool of crime.

One of earth’s dissension-breeders, one of Hate’s unreasoning tools,
In the annals of the ages, when the world’s hot anger cools,
He who sought for Crime’s distinction shall be known as Chief of Fools.

In the annals of the ages, he who had no thought of fame
(Keeping on the path of duty, caring not for praise or blame),
Close beside the deathless Lincoln, writ in light, will shine his name.

Youth proclaimed him as a hero; time, a statesman; love, a man;
Death has crowned him as a martyr, – so from goal to goal he ran,
Knowing all the sum of glory that a human life may span.

He was chosen by the people; not an accident of birth
Made him ruler of a nation, but his own intrinsic worth.
Fools may govern over kingdoms – not republics of the earth.

He has raised the lovers’ standard by his loyalty and faith,
He has shown how virile manhood may keep free from scandal’s breath.
He has gazed, with trust unshaken, in the awful eyes of Death.

In the mighty march of progress he has sought to do his best.
Let his enemies be silent, as we lay him down to rest,
And may God assuage the anguish of one suffering woman’s breast.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Death, In Life.

(“Ceux-ci partent.”)

[Bk. III. v., February, 1843.]

We pass – these sleep
Beneath the shade where deep-leaved boughs
Bend o’er the furrows the Great Reaper ploughs,
And gentle summer winds in many sweep
Whirl in eddying waves
The dead leaves o’er the graves.

And the living sigh:
Forgotten ones, so soon your memories die.
Ye never more may list the wild bird’s song,
Or mingle in the crowded city-throng.
Ye must ever dwell in gloom,
‘Mid the silence of the tomb.

And the dead reply:
God giveth us His life. Ye die,
Your barren lives are tilled with tears,
For glory, ye are clad with fears.
Oh, living ones! oh, earthly shades!
We live; your beauty clouds and fades.

Victor-Marie Hugo

Death In Life.

Within my veins it beats
And burns within my brain;
For when the year is sad and sear
I dream the dream again.

Ah! over young am I
God knows! yet in this sleep
More pain and woe than women know
I know, and doubly deep!…

Seven towers of shaggy rock
Rise red to ragged skies,
Built in a marsh that, black and harsh,
To dead horizons lies.

Eternal sunset pours,
Around its warlock towers,
A glowing urn where garnets burn
With fire-dripping flowers.

O’er bat-like turrets high,
Stretched in a scarlet line,
The crimson cranes through rosy rains
Drop like a ruby wine.

Once in the banquet-hall
These scarlet storks are heard:
I sit at board with men o’ th’ sword
And knights of noble word;

Cased all in silver mail;
But he, I love and fear,
In glittering gold beside me bold
Sits like a lover near.

Wild music echoes in
The hollow towers there;
Behind bright bars o’ his visor, stars
Beam in his eyes and glare.

Wild music oozes from
Arched ceilings, caked with white
Groined pearl; and floors like mythic shores
That sing to seas of light.

Wild music and a feast,
And one’s beloved near
In burning mail – why am I pale,
So pale with grief and fear?

Red heavens and slaughter-red
The marsh to west and east;
Seven slits of sky, seven casements high,
Flare on the blood-red feast.

Our torches tall are these,
Our revel torches seven,
That spill from gold soft splendors old
The hour of night, eleven.

No word. The sparkle aches
In cups of diamond-spar,
That prism the light of ruddy white
In royal wines of war.

No word. Rich plate that rays,
Splashes of splitting fires,
Off beryl brims; while sobs and swims
Enchantment of lost lyres.

I lean to him I love,
And in the silence say:
“Would thy dear grace reveal thy face,
If love should crave and pray?”

Grave Silence, like a king,
At that strange feast is set;
Grave Silence still as the soul’s will,
That rules the reason yet.

But when I speak, behold!
The charm is snapped, for low
Speaks out the mask o’ his golden casque,
“At midnight be it so!”

And Silence waits severe,
Till one sonorous tower,
Owl-swarmed, that looms in glaring glooms,
Sounds slow the midnight hour.

Three strokes; the knights arise,
The palsy from them flung,
To meward mock like some hoarse rock
When wrecking waves give tongue.

Six strokes; and wailing out
The music hoots away;
The fiery glimmer of eve dies dimmer,
The red grows ghostly gray.

Nine strokes; and dropping mould
The crumbling hall is lead;
The plate is rust, the feast is dust,
The banqueters are dead.

Twelve strokes pound out and roll;
The huge walls writhe and shake
O’er hissing things with taloned wings
Christ Jesus, let me wake!

Then rattling in the night
His iron visor slips
In rotting mail a death’s-head pale
Kisses my loathing lips.

Two hell-fierce lusts its eyes,
Sharp-pointed like a knife,
That flaming seem to say, “No dream!
No dream! the truth of Life!”

Madison Julius Cawein

Death Is A Dialogue Between

Death is a dialogue between
The spirit and the dust.
“Dissolve,” says Death. The Spirit, “Sir,
I have another trust.”

Death doubts it, argues from the ground.
The Spirit turns away,
Just laying off, for evidence,
An overcoat of clay.

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

Death Of A Believer

Yet at the last, ere our spearmen had found him,
Yet at the last, ere a sword-thrust could save,
Yet at the last, with his masters around him,
He spoke of the Faith as a master to slave.
Yet at the last, though the Kafirs had maimed him,
Broken by bondage and wrecked by the river,
Yet at the last, tho’ the darkness had claimed him,
He called on Allah, and died a Believer!

Rudyard Kipling

The Death Of Love

So Love is dead, the Love we knew of old!
And in the sorrow of our hearts’ hushed halls
A lute lies broken and a flower falls;
Love’s house stands empty and his hearth lies cold.
Lone in dim places, where sweet vows were told,
In walks grown desolate, by ruined walls
Beauty decays; and on their pedestals
Dreams crumble and th’ immortal gods are mold.
Music is slain or sleeps; one voice alone,
One voice awakes, and like a wandering ghost
Haunts all the echoing chambers of the Past –
The voice of Memory, that stills to stone
The soul that hears; the mind, that, utterly lost,
Before its beautiful presence stands aghast.

Madison Julius Cawein

The Death Of Autumn

When reeds are dead and a straw to thatch the marshes,
And feathered pampas-grass rides into the wind
Like aged warriors westward, tragic, thinned
Of half their tribe, and over the flattened rushes,
Stripped of its secret, open, stark and bleak,
Blackens afar the half-forgotten creek,–
Then leans on me the weight of the year, and crushes
My heart. I know that Beauty must ail and die,
And will be born again,–but ah, to see
Beauty stiffened, staring up at the sky!
Oh, Autumn! Autumn!–What is the Spring to me?

Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Death Of Lovers

We will have beds imbued with mildest scent,
And couches, deep as tombs, in which to lie,
Flowers around us, strange and opulent,
Blooming on shelves under the finest skies.
Approaching equally their final light,
Our twin hearts will be two great flaming brands
That will be double in each other’s sight
Our souls the mirrors where the image stands.
One evening made of rose and mystic blue
We will flare out, in an epiphany
Like a long sob, charged with our last adieus.
And later, opening the doors, will be
An Angel, who will joyfully reglaze
The tarnished mirrors, and relight the blaze.

Charles Baudelaire

The Death Of Regret

I opened my shutter at sunrise,
And looked at the hill hard by,
And I heartily grieved for the comrade
Who wandered up there to die.

I let in the morn on the morrow,
And failed not to think of him then,
As he trod up that rise in the twilight,
And never came down again.

I undid the shutter a week thence,
But not until after I’d turned
Did I call back his last departure
By the upland there discerned.

Uncovering the casement long later,
I bent to my toil till the gray,
When I said to myself, “Ah what ails me,
To forget him all the day!”

As daily I flung back the shutter
In the same blank bald routine,
He scarcely once rose to remembrance
Through a month of my facing the scene.

And ah, seldom now do I ponder
At the window as heretofore
On the long valued one who died yonder,
And wastes by the sycamore.

Thomas Hardy

Death of the Flower

I love my mother, the wildwood,
I sleep upon her breast;
A day or two of childhood,
And then I sink to rest.

I had once a lovely sister —
She was cradled by my side;
But one Summer day I missed her —
She had gone to deck a bride.

And I had another sister,
With cheeks all bright with bloom;
And another morn I missed her —
She had gone to wreathe a tomb.

And they told me they had withered,
On the bride’s brow and the grave;
Half an hour, and all their fragrance
Died away, which heaven gave.

Two sweet-faced girls came walking
Thro’ my lonely home one day,
And I overheard them talking
Of an altar on their way.

They were culling flowers around me,
And I said a little prayer
To go with them — and they found me —
And upon an altar fair,

Where the Eucharist was lying
On its mystical death-bed,
I felt myself a-dying,
While the Mass was being said.

But I lived a little longer,
And I prayed there all the day,
Till the evening Benediction,
When my poor life passed away.

Abram Joseph Ryan

The Death Of The Poor

It is death that consoles and allows us to live.
Alas! that life’s end should be all of our hope;
It goes to our heads like a powerful drink,
And gives us the heart to walk into the dark;

Through storm and through snow, through the frost at our feet,
It’s the pulsating beacon at limit of sight,
The illustrious inn* that’s described in the book,
Where we’ll sit ourselves down, and will eat and will sleep;

It’s an Angel who holds in his magical grip
Our peace, and the gift of magnificent dreams,
And who makes up the bed of the poor and the bare;

It’s the glory of gods, it’s the mystical loft,
It’s the purse of the poor and their true native land,
It’s the porch looking out on mysterious skies!

Charles Baudelaire

The Death Of The Fly.

With eagerness he drinks the treach’rous potion,
Nor stops to rest, by the first taste misled;
Sweet is the draught, but soon all power of motion
He finds has from his tender members fled;
No longer has he strength to plume his wing,
No longer strength to raise his head, poor thing!
E’en in enjoyment’s hour his life he loses,
His little foot to bear his weight refuses;
So on he sips, and ere his draught is o’er,
Death veils his thousand eyes for evermore.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Death’s Chill Between

(Athenaeum, October 14, 1848)

Chide not; let me breathe a little,
For I shall not mourn him long;
Though the life-cord was so brittle,
The love-cord was very strong.
I would wake a little space
Till I find a sleeping-place.

You can go, – I shall not weep;
You can go unto your rest.
My heart-ache is all too deep,
And too sore my throbbing breast.
Can sobs be, or angry tears,
Where are neither hopes nor fears?

Though with you I am alone
And must be so everywhere,
I will make no useless moan, –
None shall say ‘She could not bear:’
While life lasts I will be strong, –
But I shall not struggle long.

Listen, listen! Everywhere
A low voice is calling me,
And a step is on the stair,
And one comes ye do not see,
Listen, listen! Evermore
A dim hand knocks at the door.

Hear me; he is come again, –
My own dearest is come back.
Bring him in from the cold rain;
Bring wine, and let nothing lack.
Thou and I will rest together,
Love, until the sunny weather.

I will shelter thee from harm, –
Hide thee from all heaviness.
Come to me, and keep thee warm
By my side in quietness.
I will lull thee to thy sleep
With sweet songs: – we will not weep.

Who hath talked of weeping? – Yet
There is something at my heart,
Gnawing, I would fain forget,
And an aching and a smart.
– Ah! my mother, ’tis in vain,
For he is not come again.

Christina Georgina Rossetti

Death Stands Above Me

Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.

Walter Savage Landor

The Death-Song.

Mother, mother! my heart is wild,
Hold me upon your bosom dear,
Do not frown on your own poor child,
Death is darkly drawing near.

Mother, mother! the bitter shame
Eats into my very soul;
And longing love, like a wrapping flame,
Burns me away without control.

Mother, mother! upon my brow
The clammy death-sweats coldly rise;
How dim and strange your features grow
Through the hot mist that veils my eyes!

Mother, mother! sing me the song
They sing on sunny August eves,
The rustling barley-fields along,
Binding up the ripe, red sheaves.

Mother, mother! I do not hear
Your voice – but his, – oh, guard me well!
His breathing makes me faint with fear,
His clasping arms are round me still.

Mother, mother! unbind my vest,
Upon my heart lies his first token:
Now lay me in my narrow nest,
Your withered blossom, crushed and broken.

Frances Anne Kemble (Fanny)

So, here is the greatest compilation of poems about death.

Let me know which one is your favorite! 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: