Poetry and Death

In the last of our first series of workshops we will:

  • Take a moment to think about our work together over the last few months.
  • Read and react to literature on the theme of ‘death’.
  • Think about how authors picture “death” – as a character, as a threshold, as a philosophical idea, or as nothing at all!
  • Talk through two poems and one prose piece reflectively together, adding in some snippets from other favourite writers, and use them to think about our own experiences.

Our aims are:

  • For us to have fun together and learn from each other by talking about literature
  • For you to leave with some new ideas and some new language, and to be inspired to share these with others
  • For us to think about what matters to us and to gain some new perspectives, helped by the poetry


Tips for getting into the poems!

  • Can you put the finger on what “works” for you, and what doesn’t hit the mark? Are there any specific words, images, colours, sounds or ideas that stand out?
  • What do the poems remind you of? Song lyrics, images, films, or memories of your own?
  • What kind of perspective would we need to feel that we are walking in the poet’s shoes?
  • Are there any contradictions in the poem?
  • Do you think the poem conveys a particular idea or a message? What is the poet trying to tell us?

The poems

We’ll have the poems in front of us, but if you would like to read them in advance you can see below or email cambridgegooddeath@gmail.com for the worksheet (available in large or standard size text).

1) Crossing the Bar, by Alfred Lord Tennyson
A participant in a previous workshop introduced us to this incredible recording of the poem sung in the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral: The Spooky Men’s Chorale – Crossing the Bar

2) After Death nothing is, and nothing Death, by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester

3) An extract from Stoner, by John Williams (we’ll distribute this in the workshop)

The quotations

“Death, where is thy sting? […] it is here in my heart and mind and memories.”
Maya Angelou

“Before us great Death stands
Our fate held close within his quiet hands.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

“It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.
The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time.”
Samuel Johnson

“A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.”
Emily Dickinson

“When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.”
Sogyal Rinpoche


Some other recommendations on the theme of death

You may like to have a look at Words for our selection of poetry and prose on themes connected to death, dying and loss.

Emma’s recommendation: I Died for Beauty, by Emily Dickinson
Laura’s recommendation: To Death, Anne Finch

We’d love to hear your thoughts and learn from your insights and experiences.

Please leave feedback anonymously here or email us at cambridgegooddeath@gmail.com. We especially love to collect new recommendations of literature, poetry, lyrics, and artworks!