I need to find 10 poems about death, grief, and loss and analyze them in a comprehensive manner. Would you suggest a few poems that offer good comparison analysis (on any subject including gender,...

I need to find 10 poems about death, grief, and loss and analyze them in a comprehensive manner. Would you suggest a few poems that offer good comparison analysis (on any subject including gender, time, culture, etc.?).

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Death is a topic for many a poet and the individual's approach to this topic ranges from flirtation to metaphysical contemplation to fear and even rebuke. Here are some suggestions.

One way to make comparisons among poems about death is their arrangement under a particular movement such as Romanticism or Transcendentalism. Another way is to compare the tone of the poet regarding the topic of death.

Many of Emily Dickinson's poems, such as "My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close," were influenced by Transcendentalism, and these are certainly worthy of examination.

Another poet who expresses much emotion in his poetry is Dylan Thomas. In his "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," the speaker urges his father, who is dying, to "Rage, Rage" against death. Another poem which can be compared to this one is John Donne's metaphysical "Death Be Not Proud":

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so

The poet Christina Rossetti writes of the insignificance of death at times, as in "When I Am Dead, My Dearest":

When I am dead, my dearest, 
Sing no sad songs for me;
In addition, many poems about death have been written against the background of war. For instance, the innocent victims of war are mentioned in Walt Whitman's poignant poem "A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray and Dim." This is a poem that is replete with the emotion of Romanticism.

Within the setting of an army camp in the Civil War the speaker walks out his tent and sees three men on stretchers "lying, brought out there untended lying" with blankets covering them. The speaker stops and lifts the blankets so that he can see their faces. One is older; the second is so young that the speaker remarks,

                                      ...my child and darling,
Who are you sweet boy with cheeks yet blooming?

These lines are very heart-rending as the speaker is so moved by the senseless and tragic death of this young man cut down so early in his life.

Another war poem is one by Wilfred Owen, who wrote against the setting of World War I. Although Owen utilizes satire in his poetry, he expresses great sympathy for the suffering, sorrow, and deaths of soldiers, similarly to Whitman. In his poem "Mental Cases," for instance, Owen expresses his profound awareness and sympathy for the suffering of his fellow soldiers:

These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished.
Memory fingers in their hair of murders,...
Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,
Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter.

Both poets, of course, express the tragedy of war and the death it causes, although Owen uses brutal realism while Whitman pours emotion.

Owen also expresses the tragedy of war and the death it causes in "Anthem for Doomed Youth":

Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

Further, Owen's satire is apparent in his poem "Dulce et Decorum Est" as he mocks "the old lie" of the honor of dying for one's country--"Sweet and decorous"-- by describing the horrific death of a soldier as he chokes and "drowns" from mustard gas.

This mockery of the greatness of military forces is also expressed in "Eighth Air Force," a poem written by the poet Randall Jarrell, who coped with World War II. His satiric attitude toward war and the pilots who bombed the continent from England--O murderers!" is conveyed throughout his verse and expressed succinctly in his biblical allusions to Pilate, as well in one of his last lines about sacrificial deaths: "Men wash their hands, in blood, as best they can."