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English Poetry: The Reverse of Death

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Death has always been a live issue for the majority of writers and poets. This notion seems both familiar and mysterious, and it has always attracted people. Just like a poison is the reverse side of the cure, death is the life itself in its darkest representation. Poets William Stanley Merwin and Billy Collins shared their thoughts and feelings about the notion of death in their works “Care and Feeding” and “For the Anniversary of My Death.”

In the poem “For the Anniversary of My Death,” the author uses many stylistic devices to create bright images. For example, Merwin uses the oxymoron “a lightless star” to show how bright and dull our lives are at the same time. He emphasizes his enthusiasm for life calling himself the “tireless traveler.”

Periodical and cyclic perception of time is another specific feature of the poem. The way Merwin perceives the course of life is evident in the line “Every year without knowing it I have passed the day.” Moreover, he compares the end of life with autumn, “As today writing after three days of rain,” the death with winter, and a new life with spring, “Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease.” He metaphorically underlines the interdependence between two opposite notion: death and a new life.

Collins built his poem “Care and Feeding” on the analogy of a dog’s life. The perspective of a dog, dog’s age, and dog’s habits identify Collins’ sincerity and simplicity of his desires. In the poem, the author takes care of a dog, “I will fill my metal bowl at the sink with cold fresh water,” and the dog responds “And lick my nose and ears and eyelids.” This inner dialogue reveals Collins’ acceptance of his habits and his daily life, which has become problematic for him, and he feels a strong need for a “seeing-eye dog,” a close friend.

There are two hidden metaphors in the poem: The first metaphor refers to a dog as a friend, and the second metaphor is about the old dog that cannot learn new tricks. The author examines his own habits and feelings, underlining that he is the best friend to himself.

Comparing “Care and Feeding” and “For the Anniversary of My Death.” it is important to bring into focus that both poems are not only about death, but they also deal with crucial rethinking of people who analyze their feelings on the edge of their lives.

In both poems, there are thoughts about the moment of dying, expressed in lines “And the silence will set out”, “When the last fires will wave to me”, and “Lie down at my feet on the wood floor and close my eyes.” Nevertheless, Merwin perceives death as an epochal moment, while Collins understands it as a sleep, which is a quiet and peaceful process that does not involve any negative emotions or negative connotation. 

Spring as a symbol of a new life is described in the poems in a similar way. In the lines “Hearing the wren sing” and “Along the green shore of the lake”, it is evident that both writers perceive death through its opposite – a new life, spring.

The outside perspective is an important element in the poems. Merwin represents his feelings in the line “Find myself in life as in a strange garment surprised at the earth” as the feelings of an individual who is abandoned and lonely in this world. By contrast, Collins examines himself during the whole poem, “I will fill my metal bowl at the sink with cold fresh water, and lift a biscuit from the jar and hold it gingerly with my teeth,” showing his simple attitude to life.

However, with regard to the differences between “Care and Feeding” and “For the Anniversary of My Death,” it is important to pay attention to the issue of loneliness. Analyzing their own lives, both writers think about someone to share their pain and memories with. Finishing the poem with the words “And bowing not knowing to what,” Merwin expresses uncertainty as to the divine conception, perceiving God as a creature that did not come to help to conquer death.

By contrast, Collins perceives himself as his only real friend, a person that has always been ready to listen and help in hard situations. At the time of death, he is not alone; he shares memories with himself and takes care of himself, “checking every once in a while to make sure I am still there.” These concepts represent two different points of view. On the one hand, there is an individual who wants to share his life, feelings, and memories with the whole Universe, but he is alone. On the other hand, there is a person who is ready to face the death alone and appears in a great company. 

To sum up, it should be mentioned that both poets analyze their life, thinking about death, sharing memories, and feelings on the deathbed. However, while Merwin expresses his disappointment, Collins is optimistic about his past and future. Both poets mention spring as a symbol of a new life and examine themselves from the outside perspective. Philosophical rethinking of the divine conception is another common issue for these poems. The idea of self as the closest friend in Collins’ poem symbolizes inner harmony, while Merwin’s desperation expresses loneliness on the deathbed.

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