What is the strongest people’s fear which influences their life and attitude to the reality and to the other persons? It is the fear of death. Life as the major value which people have can also be discussed from the point of death as its opposite side. If people consider life as the most significant value, it is rather difficult for them to determine the clear attitude to death. The difference in attitudes depends on the difference in the intensity of the fear.
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Death is the main theme of such works as the poem by Dylan Thomas “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” and the short story by Ambrose Bierce “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. Moreover, death is also is one of the important motifs in the piece of poetry written by John Donne and known as “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”.
There are the centuries between these works, but the themes discussed in them have no time limitations, and the authors have as differences as similarities in their visions of the problem of death.
Bierce discusses death as the opposite side of life, Thomas accentuates that death is the enemy and people must fight with him, and Donne concentrates on death as the metaphor for persons’ parting. To analyze the peculiarities of the authors’ approaches to the issue, it is necessary to focus on their opinion on what separates death and life.
John Donne wrote his poem in 1611 as the manifestation of the limitlessness of spiritual love. Thus, if people love each other, any borders in space and time cannot destroy their spiritual bonds. Such vision is typical for the metaphysical poetry of John Donne.
Nevertheless, the symbol of death in the combination with the love theme creates a new specific vision of the idea. Donne relates to death in the first lines of his poem. Thus, he says that “As virtuous men pass mildly away, / And whisper to their souls to go, / Whilst some of their sad friends do say, / “The breath goes now,” and some say, “No” (Donne 1-4).
To understand the link of the beginning of the poem with the theme of love, it is important to pay attention to the next lines in which the author insists on hiding the emotions and not mourning because of parting caused by any reasons, “So let us melt, and make no noise” (Donne 5).
It is possible to determine the key elements which are necessary for understanding Donne’s vision of death as the metaphor for the eternal love.
John Donne accentuates that the men are “virtuous”, they pass away “mildly”, and it is even impossible to notice the fringe between death and life when they pass away (Chambers). The question of this fringe helps to emphasize the problem of the lovers’ separation. “The separation of the soul from the body, and the separation of lovers from each other, is not an ending but the beginning of a new cycle” (Cavanaugh).
Moreover, the image of a cycle which accentuates the cycle of love between to souls is also relevant for describing the circle of the life. It is presented in the last two lines of the poem. The author states “Thy firmness makes my circle just, / And makes me end where I begun” (Donne 34-35). That is why Donne depicts not only the circle of life and death, but also the circle of souls and their love.
In his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” Dylan Thomas focuses on the circle of life and death is more directly in comparison with the metaphorical vision of John Donne. The author’s main idea is presented in the first line of the poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” (Thomas 1).
The poem was written in 1951 and can be described as the address to the author’s father as it is stated at the end of the poem, “And you, my father, there on the sad height, / Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray” (Thomas 16-17). The usage of the villanelle as a form for this piece of poetry allows Thomas’s making accents on refrains. Thus, the first line which expresses the main idea becomes the major refrain which is supported by the other one, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” (Thomas 3).
The usage of refrains makes Thomas’s poem more rhythmic and dynamic in comparison with Donne’s rather melancholic tone of the work. Moreover, in spite of the fact these two refrains reflect the same idea, the language which is used in these lines is quite opposite. Thus, Thomas uses such words as “gentle” and “good night” in the first line intentionally. They form a kind of a paradox for depicting the author’s attitude to the problem of death.
That is why the first refrain can sound ironically, and the second refrain reflects the author’s clear position with the help of repetition of the word “rage”. Nevertheless, the opposition of the lines is also balanced with using the word “night” in the first refrain and the word “light” in the second one (Emery).
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Dylan Thomas is rather strict in his consideration of death. If Donne emphasizes the necessity of being not frightened by death because it is only the part of the circle, Thomas accentuates his fear of death with basing on the necessity of fighting with it.
In spite of the fact it is impossible to avoid death, it is important to resist it till the end, and the expressions of rage can help to be powerful in this fight. To support the opinion of the necessity of fighting, Thomas refers to “wise men”, “good men”, “wild men”, and “grave men” who can fight with death till the end.
This reference is similar to Donne’s relying on “virtuous men”. However, if Donne’s “virtuous men” pass away “mildly”, Thomas’s “wise men”, “good men”, “wild men”, and “grave men” do not accept the coming of death and try to live the full life till the end. According to Thomas, death is a challenge which is necessary to fight with and the fringe between life and death is the feeling of fear which can make people live (Emery).
If Dylan Thomas’s vision of death is rather categorical, and John Donne admits death as the inevitability, Ambrose Bierce’s vision of death can be considered as the most complex one reflecting all the aspects of the person’s feelings while waiting for his death. Bierce’s work “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was written in 1890, and it helps to describe the author’s idea of death as the logical end of the people’s life when the notions of time and reality disappear.
In his short story Ambrose Bierce states that “death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him” (Bierce 6). The author’s words sound satirically with references to the circumstances of their stating. Is it possible to discuss the death caused by killing as a kind of respect?
The whole story is the vivid combination of reality and illusion, the main character’s journey between the past and present. However, the main character of the story Farquhar has no future because at the end of the story the readers can realize the peculiarities of his death.
Nevertheless, as Thomas’s characters of his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” should resist the coming death with all their powers as Farquhar tries to avoid his death in his virtual reality where he has the opportunity to create another variant for his life and escape from death. The depiction of this alternate variant provokes a lot of the readers’ questions because the border between the illusion and depicted reality in the story is almost destroyed.
The situation of waiting for death is depicted by Bierce in detail. The main accents are made on Farquhar’s subjective perception of time and his natural fear of death. If Thomas in his poem encourages people to fight with death being under the influence of the feeling of fear, Bierce discusses the concept of fear in his story more thoroughly.
It includes the fear of death as the basic element with references to all those fears which a person can experience during his life. According to Bierce, death as the opposite side of life and reality is the form of the unreal world, a kind of illusion (Stoicheff). That is why the fringe between the life and death in this short story is a symbol of bridge. This is that bridge on which Farquhar meets his death, and it is that bridge which can connect the world of living persons and the world of dead people.
The theme of death is one of the most discussed themes in pieces of poetry and prose. It can be associated with the theme of life or be presented with the help of its depiction through the analysis of the human values. John Donne and Dylan Thomas use different approaches to the examination of the notion of death in their poems.
Their poetic tones are also various and depict on the peculiarities of the word choice. Ambrose Bierce’s vision of the problem of death in his short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” also has many differences in comparison with the ideas presented in the poems.
Nevertheless, it is also possible to depict a lot of the similarities in the authors’ discussion of the issue of death. Thus, death can be considered as the main personal fear, the fact which separates two worlds presented in the human life circle or even as the metaphor of the lovers’ parting.
However, in spite of the peculiar features of the used devices, Thomas, Donne, and Bierce pay attention to the problem of the fringe between life and death as the most significant element which divides two worlds. This fringe can be almost impossible to be noticed, emphasized with the fear of death or be presented as the symbolic bridge.
Bierce, Ambrose. An Occurrence at Owl Creek. USA: CreateSpace, 2011. Print.
Cavanaugh, Cynthia A. The Circle of Souls in John Donne’s “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”. n.d. Web. <http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/cavanaugh.htm>
Chambers, Alan. “Glorified Bodies and the ‘Valediction: Forbidding Mourning’”. John Donne Journal: Studies in the Age of Donne 1.1-2 (1982): 1-20. Print.
Donne, John. A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. n.d. Web. <https://poets.org/poem/valediction-forbidding-mourning>
Emery, Clark. The World of Dylan Thomas. USA: Literary Licensing, LLC, 2011. Print.
Stoicheff, Peter. “’Something Uncanny’: The Dream Structure in Ambrose Bierce’s ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’”. Studies In Short Fiction, 30.3 (1993): 349–358. Print.
Thomas, Dylan. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night. n.d. Web. <https://poets.org/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night>