Mortality is defined as state of being subject to death and it means that all men are mortal and that no can escape death if it concerns a human. The words origin comes from the late English through the old French from Latin mortalitas, with ‘mort’ meaning death. The following poems deal with mortality in different ways, but all showing that death is unavoidable and that often it can influence other people.
Death be not proud by John Donne
The voice of this poem personifies death talking to death as if it’s a person and throughout the poem has an argument revealing his feeling and insulting death, making this speech a very dramatic monologue.
The poem begins by contradicting death’s authority, showing that he isn’t afraid of death and that death isn’t as powerful as it seems
” Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so”
” Die not poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me,” is a peculiar concept to understand therefore deliberately arouses the reader’s curiosity, making this poem interesting as the poet is challenging death.
Donne continues by giving a reflection of death, which is the state while we are asleep and also gives an image of being dead. He explains that death takes away the good people who die young and along with them their body and their soul is delivered to heaven, which is part of Christian belief. Donne mocks death even more when he calls death ” a slave of Fate, chance, kings and desperate man.”
This implies that death can only exist through these factors and without them death is weak and would have no control. By saying this he means that death is unfortunate one as he is to exist alongside poison, war and sickness. Form that point on he puts down death in a way that shows that death isn’t all mighty as people and other means can easily imitate death as they can give that appearance of being dead, in fact he says that these means achieve this a lot better than death’s “stroke”. Donne gives this impression by asking death,
“Why swell’st thou then,” showing death that shouldn’t be so proud of what he does. The last two lines portray the other part of the Christian belief in this poem. He says that it takes only a short period of time until “we wake eternally,” indicating heaven. The last line in particular has a great significance to Christian because when he states that there will be no more death eventually and so is referring to Christ’s death. Since Christ died, he defeated death by rising again, as this shows that there is something after death and that death isn’t the end and so explains the last sentence, “Death thou shalt die”
He shows this traditional belief in a cunning way by not once mentioning Jesus or his death, but many people would understand this type of approach. Because of his method this poem is a very intriguing and thoughtful since this poem basically entails the whole Christian belief, which he seems to shares.
Overall this poem is a very confident poem as it shows the strength of religious influence was especially in that period giving people hope and also make them think about death in an interesting way.
Lines on the death of Mr. Levett by Johnson
This poem describes the life and contribution of a man, Levett, what he meant to people, how they are affected. His profession was very like that of a doctor. Unlike Donne’s poem he focuses on one aspect of the effect of death, in this case on one person whereas Donne wrote about death in general.
The poem begins by explaining that we live in hope and that sooner or later everything we treasure, “social comforts” will eventually leave. In this poem Johnson implies that the social comforts include people, friends. He refers to Mr. Levett, making this verse the introduction, showing at the same time that this poem has personal meaning as well, but it also gives a general statement about living in society, shown in the first verse,
“As on we toil from day to day.”
Then he describes the nature of Mr. Levett, revealing that everyone who knew him liked, probably admired and respected him, which Johnson writes in the second verse,
“Of ev’ry friendless name the friend.
In verse three Johnson further explains Levett’s personality of which part is his good qualities, which he calls “unrefined”, meaning rough, because he wasn’t a cultured aristocrat. He suggests that Mr. Levett was still a good man without the noble qualities, which often define the meaning of a ‘good man’
Mr. Levett was someone who was always prepared when someone needed help. Johnson uses the term “Nature”, which is personified, meaning human race. When someone was desperately ill and was nearly dying, Levett was able to cure people with his remedies, which worked well, without boasting or showing off. He says this in verse three,
“The pow’r of art without the show”
In this verse Johnson dramatises the fact that ill people were on the verge of dying, by personifying death and so illustrates an image. He also uses metaphors to create this effect such as the one in Verse five,
“In misery’s darkest caverns known”
Again he shows that his help is always near and by personifying the words, which people have to live with in everyday life such as ” Misery” and “Anguish”, makes Levett’s contribution to society even more important as he was always there when someone was miserable, those facing death and suffering. This is described as,
“The toil of ev’ry day supplied.”
Levett never delayed when someone needed him and although he achieved so much he was still modest and he lived in a modest way. He worked for what he needed and Levett didn’t need a lot. The poet admires this, even though he doesn’t actually show this or any other emotions.
Among his good qualities was the way in which he used his limited virtue extensively. Johnson makes it known that Levett didn’t’ have a lot of virtues and these, “walked their narrow round” but those he had would make the “Eternal Master” pleased. By this term he means God, which seems apparent.
The last two verses describe his when he becomes older and after years has nearly reached the age of eighty, however he was still conscious that he was alive. In the end Levett dies quickly without any “fiery pain” and through this death soul is able to be separated from his earthly body, which Johnson describes as the “vital chain” and so his soul was free and send to heaven, which is this poem is known as ” the nearest way”
The whole poem has a positive and very public tone, praising Levett in a formal way. It also suggests that people who do good for others using their talents to the full, their reward will be in heaven. This concept can teach other how to live their lives, as it keeps referring to Levett’s work and virtue.
In some ways Donne’s poem and Johnson are similar because both of them wrote a confident poem. The tone in both is also alike, positive, s Donne offers hope and Johnson shows the reward of Levett’s work. They both show the truth about life and death since they share the same beliefs about mortality, as everything will fall away. Donne explains that the best people have to die early and Johnson’s explains that social comforts will go as well, in this case Levett, who is considered to be a good person.
Apart from sharing this they also share the Christian belief, which is life after death. They both are very convinced about heaven, because both don’t find it necessary to mention religion, specific people or heaven, as they would know that everyone would understand “souls delivery” in Donne’s poem and freeing souls ” the nearest way”, in Johnson’s poem. To bring this point across, which will give a better impression, they personify words. They both characterize death emphasising the importance and so it gives the poem a better effect.
The difference between them is that Donne’s poem is more of an argument trying to contradict death’s importance, but doing it in an intriguing way, using his opinion and little emotion, but Johnson doesn’t refer to death as much when talking about Levett’s work. Unlike Donnne’s poem Johnson is an account of a single man’s input into society. The way Donne talks to death is in an aggressive manner, whereas Johnson’s account doesn’t provide these emotions.
Ozymadias by Percy Shelley
Shelley uses the subject of mortality by telling a story about a very powerful king and what happened to his work, which he has achieved, which is his kingdom. There are three voices appearing in the poem. The first voice emerges in the first line as the poem begins with, “I met” In the second line the voice changes to “Who says,”
Referring to the traveller. From then on the traveller describes the place he visited and what he saw. He particularly gives a description of a broken statue in pieces, which is the only object in the desert. Among the pieces is the face of the statue, which has an expression of a cold-hearted person, given by the features of his face and also that he was a cruel leader as he writes ” cold command.” The sculpture could recognise this quality and engraved it forever on the statue to show what kind of a person he was. It says, “well those passions read.” His tyranny is described as, “The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed,” showing that this king Ozymandias treated his subjects ruthlessly.
The third voice is that of Ozymandias himself in the form of the inscription engraved on the pedestal. The inscription shows Ozymandias’s arrogance, as he believes himself to be “King of Kings,” better than any other king and ask the powerful people, probably other kings, to look upon his work and be both amazed and scared and he says, “Look on my works, ye mighty and despair.” However as this passage emphasises to look around there is nothing left only this stature described as a “colossal wreck,” which is decaying and so showing the actual meaning of this poem. When he says,
“Nothing besides remains,” he contradicts the line before that. The land that was once an impressive kingdom has eventually disappeared and what is left is the vast desert. This proves that mortality affects everything and everyone, even great and mighty kings who believe themselves to be great due to their achievement, but even that this is changes and in this case when the king dies the kingdom wont last for too long.
Shelley response to mortality is everything will not remain forever and that some human achievement can be worthless and in this poem it shows this. In order to bring this across Shelley deliberately chose the worst scenario, involving a tyrant who had the wrong ambitions and in the end his accomplishment proved to be useless. The message is to be careful what you should work for.
This poem has similarities with Johnson’s, which is that both tell a story and both have chosen someone who influenced what happened to other and is remembering his work, however Shelley chose a story with a moral meaning behind it. The difference is that Johnson praises his character and what others thought of him giving out little emotion, but Shelley only gives facts about his character also indicating that Ozymandias’ work was not worth the effort. Another major difference is that Shelley does not deal with death, but instead writes about what happened after Ozymandias’ death. Donne and Johnson did mention death and even personified it and Donne in particular wrote about death, as it was the subject of the poem. Apart form death Shelley does not refer to God or anything religious, but in Donne’s and Johnson’s poem religion plays an important part as it is this which gives a positive atmosphere to the poems and also offer hope to the reader. Shelley ‘s poem has more of a negative atmosphere partly because it does not offer hope and also uses and example with an unpleasant ending for the character and has no emotion whatsoever.
Remembrance by Emily Bronte
Bronte writes about someone who has died and the voice in this poem gives out sad emotions and who also tries to remember this person. She shows the effect of mortality and this can be already noticed at the start of the poem as it creates a sad image of the situation and therefore it has a sad and miserable tone accompanied with an image. A lot of repetition is used during the poem to give it that special effect and to also emphasis what is important about this poem such as “Far, far removed” and uses the word “cold” several times. By then end of the first verse she already poses a question whether she has already forgotten the dead person, personifying time. The pace starts off slow but by the start of the second verse the paste becomes faster. Even though she claims to forget about this person as she says, “my thoughts no longer hover,” she does actually think about him, because she can describe her thoughts so well. Like the ending of the first verse she again presents a question using repetition,
“For ever, ever more?”
The third verse begins like the first line in the first verse,” Cold in the earth,” which is building up an impression and more of the sad emotions, which is shown when the voice says,
“After such years of change and suffering.”
By saying that “Faithful indeed, is the spirit that remembers,” the voice finds it hard to remember.
The poem continues by asking the dead person to forgive her “while the world’s tide ” is bearing her along. The poet uses this passive word to represent letting life happen without her involving to do anything. She then explains what might happen to her and could enable her to forget the dead person. She describes them as ” other desirers and other hopes,” which can overcome her, however they don’t affect her feelings towards this person.
In verse five, Bronte writes a metaphor, which implies that there was no one else after the death of the person,
” No later light has lightened up my heaven.”
The second line is started with a repetition but the line comes with a negative tone, as she has a pessimistic attitude towards a new love, which would cause more pain
Then Bronte uses the phrase, “All of my life’s bliss,” which presents the happiness and passion twice as a beginning of the sentence to give reasons for her misery as she has given all her happiness and there no more left. So when her love dies the feelings followed the person to the grave.
Bronte’s attitude towards her life after the person’s death changes. She gives examples of what could happen to her, however she would be able to cope with the changes. She says that it doesn’t matter if her “golden dreams had perished,” which is a strong word in this context, or ” Despair was powerless to destroy,” meaning that she could be beyond despair and it wouldn’t be important, personifying despair at the same time. She tries to persuade the reader that she could live without this person since she says,
“I learn how existence could be cherished,” using the term existence to explain that she is only living, but it can’t be called a life and is willing to live with it. She then continues,
“Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy,” meaning that she can continue with her existence but it won’t be the same as the life she had before, with happiness.
In the sixth verse she believes she can overcome the pain, because she could stop crying when she says,
” I check the tears of useless passion”
She would be able to stop longing for the dead person and prevent her soul from dying in order to be buried next to the dead person.
In the last verse the voice changes her emotions again. She talks about her soul and that she should not keep think about him and the past as it would hurt too much, which she depicts as “memory’s rapturous pain.” If she does remember the painful memories, described as “drinking deep of that divinest anguish,” she would constantly mourn.
This poem remembers how happy she was and can also remember the death of her love, so that the reader can imagine the situation and feelings of grief, as this mostly portrays the voice’s emotion. This is also the difference between Bronte’s poem and the other three, which compared to this, seems more factual. This poem reveals complex, intense and different shades of emotions. Another difference is that this poem shows the effect of death on one particular person, showing how the voice can cope with mortality. Compared to Donne and Johnson, Bronte’s poem doesn’t offer hope, like Shelley ‘s, as it is dominated by sad emotions, however Shelley does this without any emotions at all. Like Shelley it doesn’t mention any religion or religious figures.
She dwelt among the untrodden ways by William Wordsworth
This short poem, by Wordsworth tells the story of an unknown woman who lived in an isolated place. The first verse is factual, describing the place where she lives and because it is a remote place there is no one to admire as he says,
“And very few to love.”
The poem continues with a metaphor, “A violet by a mossy stone,” showing that this woman must have been beautiful, however there was no one to appreciate this beauty. He then makes use of a similie to emphasis her beauty, but also that she is alone,
“Fair as a star, when only one.”
The last verse explains that because she was unknown her death was unknown as well, but there is someone who knew about her and when she died which was the voice. This becomes apparent when he says, “The difference to me!” This shows that this poem entails emotion only in the last line since before everything was descriptive and factual. Once this line is read it becomes clear that he is remembering her with sadness, as he was probably the only one affected by this death. Even though it is written simply, it still displays the effect of other people’s mortality on others and effectively depicts grief. The poet obviously believed that his own feelings were worth including in this poem.
A slumber did my spirit seal by William Wordsworth
This poem is very similar to the one before as it deals with mortality in the same way and it begins with the voice’s mind wanting to sleep. He felt that the person who has died couldn’t be touched by mortality as he says,
“A thing that could not feel the touch of earthly years.”
It then follows on with the portrayal of what is happening to her while she is dead. He writes that she is unable to move, hear or see and that now she is part of nature because she,
“Rolled round in earth’s diurnal course”
The reader here is clearly witnessing feeling presented by the poet, which seem very intense in a short poem like this.
Both poems, though very short show the meaning of the stories successfully, because their intention is to interest the reader in illustrating emotions, especially grief, which is associated with mortality. Although they consist of two to three verses they have a shocking effect at the end.
The difference between this poem and the others is that the other poems are addressed to the public, whereas these seem to be personal poems. It has similarities with Bronte’s poem as both incorporate grief when they write about mortality and like Bronte and Shelley there is no reference to religion or offer hope to the reader, as this poem has a negative atmosphere.
Break, break, break by Tennyson
This poet is writing about someone who is mourning the death of a close person. The first two lines in the first are quite graphic as it is looking into the sea breaking on the stones. At this point the tone is harsh, as the voice seems to command the sea to break as he says,
“On thy cold grey stones, O Sea!”
But then the tone changes and becomes softer, because he is unable to find the words for the emotions he feels.
The next verse is a contrast to the first one as it has a positive attitude, because he creates a scene, which he seems to look at. He describes the scene and what the people do. The pace is faster and by repeating “O well,” he holds the poem back, giving it a happier tone.
The positive atmosphere continues with this image but for only two lines in the third verse, as the voice is overcome by emotions of grief, realising that the person who has passed away has gone completely. This is shown when he says,” The touch of a vanished hand,” and “The sound of a voice that is still.” Even though he sees the images of happiness of other people he is not moved in any way.
The last verse is recalling the first verse and starts the same way and like the first verse it is repeating, “O sea,” at the end of the sentence.
He thinks back to the past and is certain that those days will never return. It is when he says, “Will never,” which makes the statement definite that his happiness will not come back.
The breaking of the waves reflects the breaking of the heart. In comparison with Bronte’s and Wordsworth’s poem this poem is very similar to the other two as all three are writing about the same aspect of mortality and how it can affect someone and in all three of them death have emotional impact on the voice. Similar to William Wordsworth Tennyson believes that his feelings are worthwhile being the subject to the poem, showing a lot of emotions and among them sorrow. For that reason it is somewhat different to the first three poems, which don’t show any emotions.
My personal favourite is the Ozymandias, because he writes he writes about a story, which it is not personal or emotional like the other ones. The fact that he chose a story such as this appeals to me and he also makes it a moral story, allowing the reader to think about the meaning. I also like the way he puts his point across about mortality and he does it effectively, without writing a very long poem and making it pretentious.
As there isn’t any emotion included Shelley does not make it a depressing poem, which many of the other poems are, even though there isn’t a good ending for the character or offers any hope. What makes this poem not depressing is that there is no drama or any love involved. The poem is very descriptive as well and so makes it easy for the reader to imagine what is happening and create a picture of the surroundings.