Both Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the authors cited here, are well known for themes of death and mortality occurring in their works. Poe's approach tends to be one exploring the atmospheric horror and emotional anxiety surrounding death, while Hawthorne often explores moral and social issues connected to dying. In his poem "The Raven" the protagonist who narrates the poem in the first person is grieving the loss of his lover Lenore. The raven appears and seems to mock the narrator's grief and loneliness. He speaks to the raven, asking if he will see his beloved again, asking if there is peace after death; but every question is met with the answer "Nevermore." The raven continues to haunt the narrator, and in the final stanza he states that his soul will never be lifted; he expects to grieve Lenore the rest of his days, and to (presumably) meet his own death with fear and dread. "
"And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!"
Poe's short story "The Masque of the Red Death
" takes a very different tack: the protagonist, Prince Prospero (whose name connotes wealth), far from brooding on death, decides to defy it with an ostentatious party. The disease ravaging the countryside is known as the Red Death: it causes victims to bleed horribly from facial wounds and die suddenly, and is causing fear in all the residents of the kingdom, and so the prince decorates his castle for a decadent ball and invites everyone to attend. Each room is decorated in a different color, and these descriptions make up a large part of the story. The final room is decorated with blood-red walls, draperies and furniture, with an enormous ebony clock. Every time the clock strikes the hour, its tone disturbs the partygoers and musicians, and they are overcome with a feeling of discomfort and dread:
"it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation."
One party guest arrives who is dressed as the Red Death, and shortly thereafter the guests fall ill and die, including the Prince. Two themes emerge: one, that it is conceited folly to assume that anyone can cheat Death when their time has come (the clock is a potent reminder of this). Two, that decadence and revelry are an inappropriate way to acknowledge the horror of sudden death by illness.
In Hawthorne's short story, "Dr Heidegger's Experiment," the protagonists are invited to consume an elixir said to be from the Fountain of Youth. Dr. Heidegger conducts the experiment with elderly friends, who briefly regain their youthful vigor. But just as quickly as youth arrives, it fades away and they are old once again. The metaphor
of the drink serves to remind readers that youth is fleeting and can never be regained. Death is inevitable and seeking to deny aging means that one will not be ready to meet one's own death when it comes. The doctor sees the wisdom of refusing to try such an experiment again, but the subjects insist they will travel to Florida to try and find the legendary fountain of youth (once sought by explorer Ponce de Leon).