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The Grim Reader: 10 Poems About Death

Liberty Hardy

Senior Contributing Editor

Liberty Hardy is an unrepentant velocireader, writer, bitey mad lady, and tattoo canvas. Turn-ons include books, books and books. Her favorite exclamation is “Holy cats!” Liberty reads more than should be legal, sleeps very little, frequently writes on her belly with Sharpie markers, and when she dies, she’s leaving her body to library science. Until then, she lives with her three cats, Millay, Farrokh, and Zevon, in Maine. She is also right behind you. Just kidding! She’s too busy reading. Twitter: @MissLiberty

I don’t know much about poetry. I don’t claim to not like poetry, I just don’t seem to find myself reading it all that often. But I do know that when I do read it, I am constantly amazed by how so much emotion is brought about by so few words. And what is one of the hardest, most emotional things to talk about? Death. (Particularly my death, but I’m sure you’re quite attached to your mortal coil as well.) So I turned to the poets to see what they have to say about it. Here are 10 beautiful (and occasionally humorous) poems about death and the big sleep.

Nothing but Death by Pablo Neruda

Love and Death by Sara Teasdale


Shall we, too, rise forgetful from our sleep, 
And shall my soul that lies within your hand 
Remember nothing, as the blowing sand 
Forgets the palm where long blue shadows creep 
When winds along the darkened desert sweep?

And you as well must die by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Death poem by Moriya Sen’an


Ware shinaba
sakaya no kame no
shita ni ikeyo
moshi ya shizuku no
mori ya sen nan

Bury me when I die
beneath a wine barrel
in a tavern.
With luck
the cask will leak

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas

(Here’s the author himself reading it. And of course, there’s this version too.)

On Death by Percy Bysshe Shelley


The pale, the cold, and the moony smile
Which the meteor beam of a starless night
Sheds on a lonely and sea-girt isle,
Ere the dawning of morn’s undoubted light,
Is the flame of life so fickle and wan
That flits round our steps till their strength is gone.

My God, It’s Full of Stars by Tracy K. Smith

(Read the full poem here.)

Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Emily Dickinson


Because I could not stop for Death— 

He kindly stopped for me— 

The Carriage held but just Ourselves— 

And Immortality.

Grief by Matthew Dickman

Execution poem by Seong Sam-mun


이 몸이 죽어 가서 무어시 될고 하니,
봉래산(蓬萊山) 제일봉(第一峯)에 낙락장송(落落長松) 되야 이셔,
백설(白雪)이 만건곤(滿乾坤)할 제 독야청청(獨也靑靑) 하리라.

What shall I become when this body is dead and gone?
A tall, thick pine tree on the highest peak of Bongraesan,
Evergreen alone when white snow covers the whole world.

What poems about death have stuck with you over the years?