The inevitability of death has inspired some of poetry’s most darkly beautiful verses. Whether unexpected or long foreseen, poets are drawn to its finality, its certainty. It can be delivered unjustly, indiscriminately. And fear of death can make monsters out of men, forever lurking at the backs of our minds, and informing our deepest nightmares.
We see poets who want to fight back, to not ‘go gentle into that good night’. We see others who accept it as an immortal rest. Many see it as the start of a new chapter. The afterlife: whether some shining new pasture, a deep, circling pit of hell, or someplace in-between.
We see death returning to the mortal world, in spectres, ghosts – providing reflections and delivering parables onto the living. In their words, we learn of the value of life, and are inspired to live it to the fullest.
We find further encouragement and optimism in the fact that death is inevitably followed by re-birth, new life flourishing with the passing of the old. We can discover that – even without the promise of a boundless heaven or sordid underworld – the death of something doesn’t mean its end. And we can find comfort: we see that grief affects us all – manifesting in myriad ways.
In this sense, we are lucky to have such a breadth of poems about death. Here are some of the best ever written.