Bereavement - Poems About Death
Death is a subject which has engaged writers throughout the ages in an attempt to express what for many remains unspeakable. There is no definitive way to deal with death, and each person tackles it in their own way. Poets are no exception.
The extracts below are just a small selection of the poems about death you can read on our magazines site. If you wish to see a fuller list, you can access our site’s Advanced Search here and search for "death" as the Subject term. You can also access the Poetry Library’s catalogue or contact the Poetry Library directly.
Canadian poet Susan Musgrave writes about loss in this issue of Second Aeon, a magazine which was edited by Peter Finch in the sixties and seventies:
All these white flowers
darkened my sleep,
after you were gone and
'as death does'
J. Brookes, editor of the late 1990s' Cardiff-based little magazine The Yellow Crane takes us to a wake in a pub in an issue from 2002:
So, in the City Arms saloon
we drink away the afternoon
toasting the uncle newly dead
and those of us still pushing on
till suddenly it's later than we thought
American-Irish poet Chris Agee lays flowers at a grave in this poem from the 2004 Tabla Book of New Verse, an annual journal published in Bristol between 1998-2004:
A month on, parachutes from the moons of dandelion
Glistening like thistledown on the lost air of your departed time.
'A Bouquet from Miriam'
This piece by celebrated Russian poet and novelist Vladimir Nabokov is entitled 'Paradise' and was published in a 1994 issue of Thumbscrew, another Bristol magazine which ran from 1994 to the early 2000s:
There, in a glade, a wild angel slumbers,
a semi-pavonian creature.
Poke at it curiously
with your green umbrella,
speculating how, first of all,
you will write a paper on it,
then -- But there are no learned journals,
nor any readers in paradise!
'In Paradise' (written in Berlin, 1927)
Oldham-based poet Tony Grist imagines the ongoing life of a poet who has already died in this poem, from a 1999 issue of Thumbscrew:
He had not died as the world believes
But written his poems of far old age –
Tipharetic, wonderful –
Then I woke, not having learnt a line.
'The Dead Poet'
London poet Valerie Josephs recalls reactions to the death of her mother in this prose poem from a 2005 issue of little London magazine Brittle Star:
Inside a small brown envelope on my desk is my mother's hairpin.
We sold the jewellery, gave away the dresses, hats and bags, no
one wanted the fur coats.
Belfast-based poet Howard Wright encounters death in this poem from a 2006 issue of long-running poetry magazine Magma:
Regardless of other appointments, he would
as indeed he should,
seek you out and arrive at your door,
though, in the end, what’s more
likely is you will find yourself cold-calling at his
London-based Dublin poet Róisín Tierney offers us a vision of the funeral as dream, reset in the mythologies of fairy tales, also published in the same issue Magma:
Horses stand and plume the air with breath.
They bow and dip their heads.
Feathers are fitted to their foreheads.
They are well feathered now!
They stamp and sweat.
And someone is getting a right send off.
Someone is getting the feathers.
See the glass carriage. O Cinderella!
Oh dream world of happy endings!
American poet Clint Frake gives us two elegies, both published in a 2009 of the Templar / University of Gloucestershire magazine Iota. The first is in memory of Allen Ginsberg:
The Detroit News printed “Flower Power!” & “Smoke Dope!”
beside your obituary.
I knew you as crystal-headed sage
in crisp white, buttoned business shirts;
first-thought wizard of candid snapshots & scholarly blues
who gave up his seat at the auditorium for late arrivals
The second is in memory of Gregory Corso:
Ah, seraphic weasel, adamant mason of oddest phrase,
how you scolded the poets in Naropa’ s summer tent
where the sprinklers soaked our manuscripts at noon.
'Lost Watches & Stolen Coats'
Poet and novelist Lucy Ann Watt takes us to the last bedside in this poem first published in 2009 in the long-established magazine The Rialto:
You’re so tired of sitting up,
they’re making up the death bed:
pumping up the air-mattress; unfolding
and flapping and smoothing and tucking
the sheets. White. White for the birthing-bed
And lastly issue 2 of ARTEMISpoetry, a magazine of poems, reviews and essays by women, included a feature called "Writing from the Rough - Poems About Grief". You will find thought provoking pieces on the poetry of bereavement by the following three poets:
"It has dangers: it can sharpen grief."
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The