Reflections

Poetry and the Good Death

A reflection by Dr Phil Isherwood. Phil has been volunteering since 2010 as the ‘hospice poet’ – writing poems inspired by conversations with patients and by their creative work in the Creative Therapy Department at Bolton Hospice. Find him on twitter @Hospice_Poet I have been a volunteer poet in the hospice for the last nine […]

Reflections

Last words and Avengers: Endgame

What links Marvel’s blockbuster Avengers: Endgame and Shakespeare’s Richard II? Jessica Lim reflects on destiny, “last words” and the pervasiveness of death talk in popular culture. We have a cultural obsession with last words. It is reasonably commonplace to meet a person who can recall Oscar Wilde’s (ostensible) last words: “Either that wallpaper goes, or […]

Reflections

Death and goodness
George MacDonald’s ‘The Gifts of the Christ Child’

Can the senseless death of an innocent child ever be “good”? Can literature make it so? Emma Salgard Cunha and Jessica Lim ask how far we can accept an aestheticization of loss. When (or if) we speak about a “good death”, it is often in terms related to the experience of the dying person him […]

Reflections

Literary Epitaphs
and the question of monuments

What are the words that we’ll be remembered by? Jessica Lim reflects on the desire to set our legacies in stone. Under the wide and starry skyDig the grave and let me lie:Glad did I live and gladly die,And I laid me down with a will. This be the verse you grave for me:‘Here he […]

Reflections

Poetic creativity and the fear of death

Jessica Lim considers the urgency of Keats’ poetry in the face of death. When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain, Before high-pilèd books, in charactery, Hold like rich garners the full ripened grain; When I behold, upon the night’s starred face, Huge cloudy symbols […]

Reflections

Is the ‘good life’ a life of purpose?

The loss of purpose, which can afflict those who are facing death or who have experienced a loss, is the subject of Milton’s haunting ode. Words by Jessica Lim. If a ‘good’ or ‘purposive’ death is linked to a ‘good life’, then what does it mean to lead that ‘good life’? Specifically, how can one […]

Reflections

Anger and futility:
Wilfred Owen and ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’

Death, war, and writing about death in war (4) Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,And towards our distant rest began to trudge.Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;nk with fatigue; […]

Reflections

Glorification of military deaths

Death, war, and writing about death in war (3) War poetry is a deeply divisive and devided category of writing. On the one hand, there are poems that glorify soldiers and their nobility in war. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade embodies this ambivalence of glorifying courage and nobility during military campaigns, and […]

Reflections

Writing as absolution:
Siegfried Sassoon and ‘The Poet as Hero’

Reflecting on attitudes towards death in war (2) You’ve heard me, scornful, harsh, and discontented,    Mocking and loathing War: you’ve asked me why Of my old, silly sweetness I’ve repented—    My ecstasies changed to an ugly cry.  You are aware that once I sought the Grail,    Riding in armour bright, serene and strong; And it was told […]

Reflections

Apathy
and W. B. Yeats’s An Irish Airman foresees His Death

  Reflecting on attitudes towards death in war (1) I know that I shall meet my fate Somewhere among the clouds above; Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love; My country is Kiltartan Cross, My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor, No likely end could bring them loss Or […]

Reflections

An Anthropologist Reflects:
The idea of death and how we live with it

A Dead-end? In the first of three guest contributions, social anthropologist Eveliina Kuitunen writes on the problem of “otherness”. Can we really know anything about any death but our own? In 1972, Johannes Fabian criticised a parochialising of mortality and claimed anthropologists “ceased to answer for humanity” by only writing of “how others die” and […]

Reflections

An anthropologist reflects:
Death do us part

In the second in a series of guest contributions, social anthropologist Eveliina Kuitunen explores the theory of death denial Amidst anthropological and sociological arguments about whether denial is an accurate portrait of attitudes towards death in the West or not, the question of what it is exactly that is being denied remains largely undiscussed. Proponents […]

Reflections

Henry James:
Meditations on Life after Death

Everything insufferably continues to die

Reflections

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and the Good Lie

Jessica Lim explores the moral value of conversations about mortality through the lens of Leo Tolstoy’s short story on the subject. As a species, we are often not very good at talking to people who are dying about matters of mortality. This is something that runs across cultures.  Lulu Wong’s recent film, The Farewell, explicitly tackles an […]

Reflections

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas’s ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ has become one of the most widely-known and used funeral poems of modern times. Here, Jessica Lim reflects on the language of struggle, anger and fighting and how the metaphors we choose shape our experience of grief. Dylan Thomas, 1951 Do not go gentle into […]

Reflections