This essay analyzes four different poems from four different authors. All of the poems relate to death, and each author has a distinct way of thinking and exploring the issue. “Play”, by A. R. Ammons begins by painting a gloomy picture of everyone’s eventual demise and then turns that around by using it as a justification for following one’s dreams. Dylan Thomas’s poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” is a powerful statement against, written in a Biblical voice of God’s decree. Luke Maguire Armstrong’s poem “One Pound of The World” treats death as an inevitable larceny of life. Finally, Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Father Death Blues” is a playful poem with a bouncy rhyme scheme, which personifies death into familiar characters.
The poems all address death, with Ginsberg and Thomas doing it more directly by speaking directly to death, Armstrong and Ammons are speaking to the reader about their thoughts on death.
The poems employ different methods to achieve their desired effect, which differ slightly between some poems and drastically with others. The net result of analyzing four poems on the theme is the differences in which death is treated. Individuals mourning the loss of a loved one deal with the pain and grief in different ways. Likewise, different poems find different ways of thinking about and writing about death. Some choose to laugh it off and not take it seriously, whereas some take it seriously but decide to ignore it, while another poet analyzed here seems preoccupied with the possibility of death.
Play by A. R. Ammons is a short poem of sparse language. It begins with a rather glum pronouncement, “Nothing’s going to become of anyone except death:” (Ammons, 1). It reverses that in the same stanza by saying that “there” it’s okay to yearn too high.” The speaker says that the grave will accommodate “swell rambunctiousness.” The point being conveyed is that when we go to our graves, nothing will matter anyways, so why not set on a path towards one’s wildest dreams?
The overall attitude, or tone of the poem is one of empowerment. The diction includes a number of positive words such as “magnificence”, “liberates”, “imagination” and “yearn.” The poems imagery creates a scenic nature setting. Speaking metaphorically about a dream, the speaker directs the reader to “pick a perch,” and gives the example of “apple boughin bloom.” My reading the imagery that was kindled was of a bird sitting on the perch of a blooming apple trees. Outside of this image, many of the words are abstract and not connected strongly to any particular object.
The language is clear and simple, and elevates ordinary things into something large and inspiring. The line, “drill imagination right through necessity,” literally conjures up the imagine of imagination pocking holes into necessity, and encourages the reader to allow their imagination and dreams to overshadow the things we do out of a sense of obligation.
The syntactical construction is one sentences panning across three stanzas. Though it is a brief poem, it is a long sentence and is balanced out by colons, which carries the reader from one point to the next. The poem begins with death but ends in fulfilling dreams and purpose. The point is, “why not? You’re going to die anyways.”
Dylan Thomas’s poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” has the same theme as Ammon’s, but it is treated differently in all parts of its construction. The speaker is speaking about death, in the way that passages of the Bible feature the point of view of god and predicate his voice.
“And death shall have no dominion,” (Dylan, 1) the poem proclaims in the first line. The justification for taking death’s domain is that while death can remove certain individuals from the planet, those are just particulars, the universal things that are appreciated by individuals will always remain intact: “Though lovers be lost love shall not.”
The title of the poem, “And death shall have no dominion” is also a repeating line that appears at the beginning on end of all three of the poems stanzas. The content of the stanzas serves to make a point of why such is so.
The tone is a prophetic confidence. The speaker is detached, speaking as much to death or laws of the universe than to the reader listening to the pronouncements against death. This adds a high level of formality to the poem.
The poem is literal, in that at least the speaker believes his argument is sound and that death is trivial due to it’s inability to take out the cycle of life, only snuff out an individual life.
Thomas uses concrete language that establishes firm images throughout the poem. He employs a variety of imagery throughout his poem. One is bones, an images strongly associated with death. The speaker talks about bones being clicked cleaned and then disappearing entirely. He employs a lot of maritime imagery, which establishes death as a journey into unknown water: “Under the windings of the seaThey lying long shall not die windily;” (Thomas, 2).
Luke Maguire Armstrong’s poem “One Pound of the World” is the shortest of the four explored in this essay. The poem is a reversal on a common theme discussed in politics and education, that the world was “handed down to us.” The speaker begins by saying that “The world was not handed down, but rather ripped out of clenching hands who would have done, did do everything, to hold onto that feeling of the living for however few lingering seconds longer.” (Armstrong, 1). That stanza ends with a dramatic and line employing exclamation points “Going going going going goinquick! last breath!”
The imagery is of a dinner party of older people that is being threatened by “break-fast demanding-children.” This is a strong image of universal appeal—adults enjoying a nice dinner juxtapositioned with eager children demanding breakfast. The language employed is precise, uses clear and intelligent phrases to use one strong image make a point that life is something to hold onto above all costs, but even despite how much we hold onto it that it will all eventually slip away from us.
Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Father Death Blues” is a playful treatment of death in which death is personified under various guises. It addresses death with “Hey” and personifies it as a father, a poor man, an old daddy. To further emphasize the personhood of death, the world is capitalized throughout the poem and used seventeen times in the poem of nine three-line stanzas.
The speaker is giving advice to death throughout the poem: “Old Aunty Death, Don’t hide your bones, Old Uncle death I hear your groans.” (Ginsberg, 3). Unlike the other three poems analyzed, Ginsberg uses a varying rhyming pattern throughout.
His images of are of familiar characters of comfort in life. Parents, relatives, comforting religious symbols from Eastern religion, “Buddha DeathDharma DeathSangha Death.” (Gindsberg, 7).
All of these poems shared a similar theme, treated it a different way. They implicitly made a common point, that death is something to ponder and explore. That death is inevitable. Poem’s like Armstrong’s did not move beyond this realization. Ammons did and thought that death could be an encouragement. Thomas commanded death to stay away and Ginsburg invited death like a friend, harboring no ill will towards it.
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Armstrong, Luke Maguire. iPoems for the dolphins to click home about. Potent Possibilities Publishing, 2010. Print.
"Father Death Blues by Allen Ginsberg."PoemHunter.Com - Thousands of poems and poets. Poetry Search Engine. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2013. .
"Play by A. R. Ammons | Rabble Rouse The World." Rabble Rouse The World | Rabble Rouse The World | . N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2013. .