Attitude Towards Death

Good Essays
Ryan Chan
Ms. Friedrich
28 May 2014
Society’s Attitude Towards Death
Even before the Renaissance, poets have explored the theme of death in an attempt to understand and cope with it. However, poets’ attitudes towards death is constantly evolving to reflect the values and beliefs of society. During the Renaissance, death was seen as an adversity that faith in God could overcome, as John Donne’s “Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness” and Thomas Nashe’s “In Time of Plague (Adieu, Farewell, earth’s bliss)” demonstrate. As the Romantic period dominated literature, death was an escape to a better world if God chose to bring you to heaven, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Epitaph” and Anna Lætitia Barbauld’s “Life” reveal. Finally, the Modern period brought about a gradual change to a secular society, illustrated by Emily Dickinson’s “Going to Heaven!” and Edgar Lee Master’s “Yee Bow”. Over the ages, society becomes more and more secular in the manner that it interacts with death.
The poetry in the Renaissance reflects the dynamism in Europe at the time, where poets wrote many beautiful pieces about defeating death with steadfast faith in God. John Donne, one of the prominent English poets at the time, wrote “Hymn to God, My God, in my Sickness” when he had a life-threatening fever in 1623. Through the poem, he reaffirms his belief in God, in resurrection after death, and writes a “sermon to mine own [soul]” (Donne 29). Also, Donne clearly believes that he is on the verge of death; if he will be part of heaven’s choir, he will “tune the instrument here at the door [of heaven]” (Donne 4). The poem is written exclusively in iambic pentameter, which makes the poem sound like a very formal sermon, or even like a will. Either way, the str...

... middle of paper ...

...t pray for him, and the townsfolk refuse to pray for him. These two poems highlight the bitterness that death has left the speakers with, and the fact that faith offers no consolation.
Poetry’s perspective on death has evolved to embrace society’s beliefs; from the devout Christianity in the Renaissance to the secular views of today’s world. The Renaissance believed in using religion to fight death, because death was something that came to people early and unexpectedly. The Romantic period saw new forms of expression and therefore new ideas. They thought that death was simply a passage to heaven, as the poets expressed. Finally, as the Modern period revolutionized the arts and our church attendance plummeted, poets saw religion as irrelevant in helping people deal with death. In truth, poetry doesn’t just voice the poet’s opinions, it reflects society’s beliefs.
Get Access