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April 25, 2006

The Poetry of Death (Or, The Death of Poetry?)

Der Danzig Danse Macabre II - © 2006 Lee Hobbs
Photograph: 'Der Danzig Danse Macabre II' © 2006 Lee Hobbs

Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me -

The Carriage held but just Ourselves
And Immortality

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
And I had put away
My labor, and my leisure too,
For his civility

We passed the school, where children strove
At recess, in the ring;
We passed the fields of gazing grain,
We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, be passed us;
The dews grew quivering and chill,
For only gossamer my gown,
My tippet only tulle.

We paused before house that seemed
A swelling of the ground;
The roof was scarcely visible,
The cornice but a mound.

Since then 'tis centuries, and yet each
Feels shorter than the day
I first surmised the horses' heads
Were toward eternity.

- Emily Dickenson

Source: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson.

I've used the dance of death theme in other places including HERE.

Any comments on either the photograph or the poem? Please leave them below and stay tuned for more.

As ever,


*To see other entries with samples of Lee Hobbs's travel photography, please visit the compilation available HERE.

Posted by lhobbs at April 25, 2006 10:30 PM

Readers' Comments:

Upon looking at this photograph for the first time, I see quite a scary, morbid figure. I'm sure for the majority of viewers, any skeletal picture as such would seem scary and remind them of death or something of the sort.

Once taking a closer look at the photograph, I saw the skeleton's arms in somewhat of a bounded fashion. This skeleton could have been a warrior or a hunter based on the bow and arrows strapped on its back. The "warrior" vision could make a lot of sense if the arms of the skeleton really are bound as it appears in the photograph.

This photograph could also be representing what my first thought had been; death. Due to the heading of this blog and the nature of the Dickenson poem, the idea of death may very well be the theme of this photograph.

Posted by: Missy Z at April 26, 2006 10:09 PM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

This picture reminds me of death. It symbolizes to me an entrance to death. It looks that a warning that death is near by, or that is the way to death. The skull really jumps out at you and sign of death. The rest of the bones covering some what of an opening seems like an entrance. The way the bones are positioned also it looks like a person jumping or maybe flying. Maybe this person was trying to escape whatever what in that opening? I don't know whats in there but if I saw this in real life, it would let me know this not the way I need to go.

Posted by: P.Beckles at April 26, 2006 10:36 PM

Professor Hobbs

Emily Dickinson is personifying death in the poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” The speaker mentions how she could not stop living her life even though she was going to die. Death was able to take her away in his carriage, just as any gentleman would take his lady for a ride. The speaker expresses the feeling that the ride with Death was pleasant and she is grateful enough to death for this pleasantness that she put away her “labor” and her “leisure” for the courtesy that he shows her.

The third stanza of the poem can be seen as the process of life. Death and the speaker pass school children, the beginning of life, then grasses thriving in a field, suggesting the middle stage of life, and finally the sun going to rest for the night. The setting of the sun can be seen as the death of the speaker, but she does not realize that her life is ending. As far as she knows it is just the end of another day.

The speaker starts to realize that she may no longer exist in the world in stanza four. She realizes that her gown is thin and transparent, a death shroud of sorts. She eventually realizes that she really is dead and stanza five represents the speaker coming to her own grave. In stanza six the speaker realizes that she has been dead for centuries, but the path she takes in death is never ending and her journey will never be truly over.

Ali L.

Posted by: Ali L. at April 26, 2006 11:20 PM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

I think this poem is being told by someone who is about to die. They aren't chosing to die, but death is choosing them. The carriage is a metaphor for strolling back through their life reflecting. The passing of the school kids is remembering their childhood. Then the carriage strolls to the end where a house is sitting. That is their final resting place. Then they ride the horses to eternity.

Brendan L.

Posted by: Brendan at April 27, 2006 03:04 PM

Professor Hobbs,

Looking at the photo entitled, “The Poetry of Death (Or the Death of Poetry),” caused me to think about a lot of different things. This photo sort of makes my emotions come into play immediately. Any time I see a picture of death, skulls, or bones, I think of disaster or pain. The skeleton that is hanging in the picture seems to be from a crucifixion or some other type of brutal murder. This photo makes me want to regurgitate, literally.

When I look closely at this photo, a number of things run through my mind. I question myself, where was this photo taken, and why was it taken. I also wonder what the people who created this work were trying to say. Since the skeleton looks like it’s hanging from something or holding strings, I think that the skeleton is there to implement fear. This looks like something that would be on the front of an old pirate ship. I can see the skeleton signaling other boats to be afraid. I also see the skeleton meaning to beware, or stay away. The photographer was most likely trying to spark our sentimental emotions. Upon further examination of this photo, I am lead to believe that skeletons symbolize fear and death.

This photo is a very interesting one, and my heart tells me to be sad when I look at it. The audience viewing this photo should attempt to exempt their feelings towards this photo, and dig deeper, into their intellectual minds. Good or not, this photo makes me feel instant remorse and sorrow.

Kashiff M.

Posted by: Kashiff M. at April 27, 2006 03:19 PM

Professor Hobbs,

This photograph reminds me of something that would be on the door of a gothic cathedral. It is a rather eerie picture that presents the thought of death hanging over something. In taking a deeper look at the photograph it gives off a depressing feeling while thinking of the families that have lost loved ones. The only time a skeleton should be displayed for the world to see is during the Halloween Holiday, other than that I feel that it is terrifying.

Angela H.

Posted by: Angela H. at April 27, 2006 11:34 PM

Right away when I look at this picture it makes me think of death. After looking at it for awhile you can see that the upper half of the skeleton is hanging from a piece of wood like it had been nailed there. This figure looks like it might be put in a place that would make people feel uncomfortable and fearful.

As for my feelings on death, I really do not like to think about death and I do not like to hear about it. The thought about it makes me feel uncomfortable because I like to think about all the good things in life. Death for anyone can happen at any time and that is just a scary thing for me.

Posted by: Thoryn S. at April 30, 2006 08:07 PM

Dear Prof. Hobbs,

First looking at the photo of "Poetry of Death", I get the sense of hell or death. The picture is quite frightening in its nature. It looks like some type of torture took place. The bones of the legs seem to placed underneath the ribs this deceased person. This photo has a very grim ambience.

The very poem itself is very chilling. Someone having an experience with death. I love the personification given to death as though it were someone that was wandering around. I believe that this person was reflecting on the life they once had. It was definetly an interesting poem, I have never heard anything like it.

Posted by: Holden B. Jones at May 8, 2006 02:51 AM

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