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Sampling the Rich History of Poetry: Part 2

My last post began a three-part series about poetry. Today I’m back with part 2, in which we discuss two poems that touch on the theme of death. It’s a grim topic, not something we normally want to dwell on for long. Yet these poems explore it in ways that are beautiful and surprising.

As before, click on the title of each poem to read it in its entirety. I recommend doing so before you read my comments.


“The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe (1845)

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December / And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.

This is one of the most famous poems ever written, and there’s a good reason for that. It tells a haunting tale in verse, in which the titular raven transforms from comforting to taunting, without ever saying more than one word: “nevermore.” The raven’s reply has different meaning depending on the question asked. Our narrator goes from heartbroken to furious as the tale progresses, driven mad by the bird’s answer. Does the raven know anything about the lost Lenore, or does the narrator ascribe meaning where there is none? You may have to decide for yourself.

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson (1890)

Because I could not stop for Death / He kindly stopped for me

Most of us don’t get to choose how or when we die. This poem makes that point in its simple but elegant first lines, then goes on to describe the voyage to the afterlife as a carriage ride, strangely serene. Dickinson makes no comment about whether this experience is good or bad. The entire poem is written in a matter-of-fact tone, distant and free of judgment. Perhaps she meant to convey that death itself does not judge, but simply takes you when it is your time, just as a carriage driver would pick up a passenger.

My next post will cover our last two poems.  In the meantime, you can explore the library’s wealth of poetry books. Maybe you’ll discover something new and exciting. Please tell us in the comments if you do.

Megan is a Children’s Library Assistant at CLP – East Liberty. When she isn’t reading fantasy, magical realism and/or pretty much any children’s book, she enjoys gaming, watching movies and writing fiction, some of which has been published.


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