Essay about John Skeleton's Upon A Deadman's Head

Essay about John Skeleton's Upon A Deadman's Head

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The skull is what holds the mind; it is the cavity that holds our perception of the world, society, and our beliefs. By the power that we have to produce creative thought through our mind and thus our skulls, we are able to think, connive, and eventually die. In “Upon A Deadman’s Head,” John Skelton shows a man’s progression of thought when he faces his mortality by seeing a skull. The character’s thought process is indicated by Skelton’s use of imagery, rhythm, word choice and address, motifs, and the presence of the skull to the character and Skelton’s reader. As the poem progresses, the man tries to find ways to escape the literal death he sees in the skull through spiritual salvation. Skelton uses the character’s denial of his literal death to provide a lesson for the reader: be accountable for their earthly actions and accept their inevitable death.

The poem is divided in the three sections of the character’s though process by means of Skelton’s imagery, rhythm, word choice, address, motifs, and the imagery of the skull. The first third of the poem, Lines 1-24, that character’s thoughts revolve around his immediate and honest reaction to the skull and death. Skelton shows this first reaction through three quickly to read stanzas. The rapidity is caused by the aabb rhyme scheme and flowing punctuation. The character’s literal reaction is shown by Skelton’s use of word choice, sensory images, and the visual presence of the skull to the character and the reader. This section is the longest section, emphasizing the importance of self-thought and acceptance of death to Skelton in this poem. The second section is the shortest section from Lines 25-36. Skelton uses several words of wealth and less words of imag...


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...s story: do not let Earthly ideas of salvation through the religion blind self-judgment and acceptance of earthly lives and inevitable death.

During a time when the rich could purchase their salvation, Skelton used the man’s progression of thought toward the skull and death to judge how Earthly religious salvation distorted natural human morality. Skelton uses his male character who admits his true beliefs in deaths but lets go of that respect to find a false salvation through wealth and religion as a guide for his readers not to follow this degrading path of Earthly salvation. Skelton’s lesson is that it is not immoral to be religious but it is immoral to use religion to be dishonest and unaccountable for the reader’s own life.


Works Cited

Skelton, John. “Upon A Deadman’s Head.” Jokinen, Anniina. 12 Oct 2001.
www.luminarium.org/renlit/deadman.htm.

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