Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“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...

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