After Someone's Death

by Tomas Tranströmer

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 490

“After Someone’s Death” is a poem that depicts the emotional shock that people experience as a psychological condition after someone has died. Against the lurid pain itself, the poem offers a message of consolation without denying the inevitable fact of mortality.

After a death, everything feels unreal and unnatural. The poem encapsulates this mood by presenting images and situations that do not bear obvious, or organic, relation to one another. A way to interpret this strategy of discontinuous images is to consider the manner in which the mind’s eye perceives the world when one is going through an emotional upheaval. The constant shifts in perception signify disturbances in the normal or usual order of experience.

Despite the overwhelming sensation of grief, the poem emphasizes everyday or familiar situations, both to show how these are transformed by the fact of death and to urge one to return to these things since they constitute life. Beyond that, the poem suggests that the natural course of life always ends with death and that all things are changed by this fact. Not surprisingly, then, the images share a common trait: The comet’s tail, the television pictures, the skiing, “last year’s leaves” on the trees, and the throbbing heart are all things that move or are in motion. If the shock renders one incapacitated, the poem focuses on movement or mobility to depict the inevitability of things changing.

While the poem’s tone is gentle, even consoling, the message resists being glib or appearing naïve. The poet Tranströmer, who understands the archipelago of his native Stockholm, perceives the complexities of the human mind as well. Death, the poem reveals, invades emotional life in much the same way modern technology has embedded itself in daily life—both disorder the images of experience. In television, for example, news reports, commercials, and entertainment programs appear in irrelevant order, but one is not unduly troubled by these jumps. If the poem seems fragmented and random in the way images appear, Tranströmer is expressing the conditions of modern experience in some of its disjointed facets.

The poem does not pretend to offer unprecedented wisdom about death; neither does it attempt to discredit the pain that death can cause to those still living. It does attempt, however, to suggest that death is a part of all life, no matter how unreal one feels after it has occurred to someone else. It is usually after someone else’s death that one is reminded of his or her own impending death.

On this note, the poem ends enigmatically with the image of the samurai beside his armor. This image suggests that, in the end, all humans are but warriors beside the apparel they don to face (or to fight or confront) the world. Finally, one rests alongside the things that contained one in life, as one also departs from that which was once himself or herself.

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