green green grass

poetry exercise 1
December 4, 2007, 2:43 pm
Filed under: cw posts

Egypt- ca. 1800 B.C

Death is before my eyes today
Like a man recovering from illness,
Like a convalescent walking afield.

Death is before my eyes today
Like the scent of the myrrh
Like sitting under a boat’s sail on a windy day.

Death is before my eyes today
Like the smell of lotus flower
Like sitting on the bank of drunkenness.

Death is before my eyes today
Like a foot-worn path,
As when a soldier returns home from a campaign.

Death is before my eyes today
Like a clearing of the heavens,
As when a man is enthralled by the unknown.

Death is before my eyes today
Like a man is yearning for his home
When he has passed a long time in captivity.


The line “Death is before my eyes today” is the first line of every stanza. The repetition of the line is a manifestation of convincing his self (the speaker of the poem) who may be an old man because his words contain wisdom in them that only those who are experienced can ponder on. I get the sense that the persona is tired. The idea “Death is before my eyes” gives me the look of tired eyes and that his remaining strength he spends in ranting about existing—just because his strength is not enough to kill himself. However, it could also be that he is still not sure if he wants to embrace death.


I have an impression that this poem is easy to read since it is so usual. Or is it? It describes death in similes like a list poem. Although I can tell that not all similes in the poem have the same intensity as the other. The one with much impact to me is, “Like sitting under a boat’s sail on a windy day”. But rereading the line, I have second thoughts. Or is it my personal sentiments getting into me because I have a fear in sailing, be it a fair or windy day? Sailing is worse but sailing in a windy day is worst. It is death. But as what I wrote, I have second thoughts about the line. Without my sentiment, it is plain. It does not describe death. A windy day must transform into a storm before it can be as intense as death.


I noticed that each stanza’s second and third lines are always in pair with each other. They are in pair in a way that they share the same idea. For example, the first stanza works hand in hand to convey an idea of death as a healing or an emancipation from illness. This means that the persona’s view of life is suffering. And death is finally the end of it. The first stanza seems to be the ruling idea of the whole poem. Death is finally resting from “a boat’s sail”, from “drunkenness”, from a “campaign”, from “being enthralled”… and finally in the last stanza, it encloses the poem as death being a home.

It seems to me that the poem has so much life in it. While the word, “death” is present in every stanza, the lines that are supposed to work to describe death are alive. If the lines are looked into individually, they all represent experiences of life. They all represent an image perceivable by the senses.


The fourth stanza, when death is  “Like a foot-worn path, As when a soldier returns home from a campaign”, views life as a war or a campaign. Death is where the path of life as a war leads.


The images of the poem express the long wait of the persona for the moment of his/her rest. Death, as he repeats is “today”. By repeating the line, “Death is before my eyes today”, strengthens the power of the “now”. It is the strong impulse of the moment that the persona sees before his/her eyes what he/she has been waiting for.


Maybe it has something to do with the familiarity of the lines that I now perceive death differently. It is clear to me that death is not the opposite of life (as shown in the lines which are alive), but a part of it. It is a natural thing. And while many people are afraid to die, the persona of the poem asserts with much conviction that death is already before his eyes. The speaker describes it in a rather light and comforting way to end.


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