Death and Poetry



by © Dr. Hilmar Alquiros, Philippines


 Death has been a central theme in poetry across cultures and eras, offering poets a lens through which they explore the complexities of life, existence, and the human condition. Death in poetry serves as both a topic of reflection and a tool for exploring broader themes about life, love, loss, and existence. Through poetic language, form, and metaphor, poets provide readers with insights, comforts, and challenges related to the end of life.

 Throughout history, poets have used death as a poignant lens to explore life's complexities and the human experience. This theme delves into topics ranging from the ephemerality of life and the grief of loss to existential musings and cultural interpretations of mortality. By employing poetic language and metaphor, poets offer readers profound insights into the interplay of life and death, juxtaposing the two to emphasize life's vibrancy and the transformative power of endings. Whether reflecting on personal encounters with death, the cycles of nature, or the legacies left behind, poetry provides both solace and challenge in the face of our shared mortality.


 Here are some main aspects of Death as addressed in Poetry:


 From the almost infinite abundance of poems about death and its many aspects, we now pick out here a quatrain, which has often been called the most beautiful short verse ever (four lines!)  - in content and form - especially in the (first) German translation by an unknown poet:


Komm, o Tod! Doch komm so leise,

dass es nicht bemerkt die Brust,

damit nicht des Sterbens Lust

mich zurück ins Leben weise …


German I., Anonymus


 Let's look at some translations of this internationalgem:


Come Death, so subtly veiled that I

Thy coming know not, how or when,

Lest it should give me life again

To find how sweet it is to die.


English, translated by John Ormsby


 The beauty of this four-liner lies in its profound engagement with the theme of death while maintaining a concise and elegantly structured form. Here's a breakdown:

 The poem's beauty and depth are encapsulated in its harmonious blend of form and content. It invites readers to reflect upon their own perceptions of death, life, and the interconnectedness of the two, all while maintaining a polished and melodious structure.


Viens. Mort, mais si cachée

que je ne te sente pas venir,

pour que le plaisir de mourir

ne me rende pas à la vie


French, Anonymus


Morte vieni sì celata

Ch'io non senta il tuo venir,

Onde il gusto del morir

Non mi torni a vita odiata.


Italian, Anonymus


Komm, o Tod, schweb leis hernieder,

Dass dein Nahn mir unbewusst,

Denn des Sterbens süße Lust

Gibt mir sonst das Leben wieder.


German II., Anonymus


...and here is the original(!):


Ven, muerte, tan escondida

que no te sienta venir,

porque el placer del morir

no me torne a dar la vida.


Spanish Original! Miguel de Cervantes


Miguel de Cervantes:  El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha 
Segunda parte del ingenioso caballero don Quixote de la Mancha.

Don Quijote / Don Quixote / Don Quijote de la Mancha, second part, 1615
Publisher Iuan de la Cuesta, Publication date 1605, 1615.

* * *

Bronze statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza  at the Plaza de España in Madrid

created by the Spanish sculptor Lorenzo Coullaut Valera. 1915-1932



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