Life and Dead in Poetry


The two main manifestations of human existence or two of its forms are life and death. These issues bother people during centuries because they are too complicated to understand them entirely. That is why the most intent contemplators of the world, poets, cannot ignore these categories. Reflecting life in their works, poets translate their views on death, sometimes doomed, sometimes respectfully, sometimes ironically. Hence, life and dead become an essential topic for the poetry of all times, including modern poems. The purpose of this paper is to analyze and compare the poems Aubade by Philip Larkin and Mother by Simon Armitage. A common theme unites these poems – the main reasons for thinking of any person. They reflect various processes and events associated with life and death. Notably, these poems do not have much in common and seem to be entirely different. However, upon closer consideration, readers can discern details that reflect their similarities. Both of these poems show how people live and what happens to them on the path of life.

Life and Death in Aubade by Philip Larkin

The poem Aubade by Philip Larkin seems truly existential. While reading it, people feel the meaninglessness of being and the cold breath of death. From the first lines, the author shows the boredom of his everyday life: “I work all day, and get half-drunk at night” (Larkin). These words reflect the cyclical nature of the author’s life, who continually repeats the same actions all the time.

All people can do after work is relax in any way to forget about their problems. However, this makes real life pass by, and such poems allow readers to feel it. This way they can understand the importance of filling life with something truly significant. The Armitage’s poem does not reflect this idea much because it is focused more on the human relations. However, it touches upon the topic of family relations, which is one of the crucial aspects of everyday life.

The continuation of the poem Aubade evokes even more emotions. The author begins to talk about death, which stands behind the shoulder of every human being. This appears as a common theme for both poems since readers can feel the death in each of them. The inevitable approach of death is noted, for instance, in these words: “Unresting death, a whole day nearer now, // Making all thought impossible but how // And where and when I shall myself die” (Larkin). Indeed, with each passing day, people bring their death closer. This means that each of the days should be filled with something meaningful and “alive.”

However, the author shows that this is not always achievable. First, because death always reminds of itself: “it stays just on the edge of vision, // A small unfocused blur” (Larkin). Second, even with the most substantial efforts, death is the obvious and inevitable end of any life. Larkin shows that even religion is not helpful in this matter: “Religion used to try, // That vast moth-eaten musical brocade // Created to pretend we never die.” Indeed, some people try to find peace in religion but do not manage to do it.

The irony of this phrase makes readers understand the author’s opinion. He believes that religion does not let people get rid of death, but only calms them down. However, this is not a way out of the current existential situation. Notably, such irony cannot be seen in Armitage’s poem: it seems much more serious and even tragic in some way. However, the closeness of dead is manifested in both pieces of art anyway.

Thus, Aubade vividly describes the problem of the relationship between life and death. Death accompanies a person everywhere and always; it is impossible to get rid of it. At the same time, people continue to live for some reason; therefore, life for some of them has a deep meaning, and it is crucial to maintain it. People have to remember about this and be brave enough to perform truly necessary and vital actions.

Life and Death in Mother by Simon Armitage

Mother by Simon Armitage touches on important issues of existence, speaking about dead less than the previous poem. Comparing it to Aubade, it can be argued that it is much more life-oriented than death-oriented, which is equally important. In particular, the author describes the relationship of a child and a mother. The poem takes place in a house, which a person tries to equip with his mother’s help. This house can be seen as a metaphor for life: it consists of many rooms and stairs. A person moves between them depending on where he is in life.

It is possible to divide the poem into several life stages. At the very beginning, the person is clearly young and cannot fully cope with his tasks. This can be noted in the first line: “Mother, any distance greater than a single span // requires a second pair of hands” (Armitage). Indeed, in the early stages of adulthood, people need help and support from significant adults. The mother plays a role of the main person in the life of any child; therefore, her work for his development is indisputably important. In addition, the author freely asks for help, as it usually happens during the growing up process.

Then the author shows some distance between the character and his mother – this is the next stage of life. At first, this is manifested in some opposition, expressing their remoteness: “You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape” (Armitage). However, then the author gets rid of this kind of metaphor and directly writes about how far they are. At this moment, the distance between the characters becomes bigger: “the line still feeding out, unreeling years between us” (Armitage). This is depicted as a continuous process that does not stop over the years. The mother and child lose touch and seem to move to different rooms. However, they are still connected because they work together on the same task and help each other.

Towards the end of the poem, the gap between mother and child becomes the strongest and most noticeable. Apparently, the main character goes to the upper floors; that is, he moves up the “ladder of life.” This shows that he is developing, building his life, changing, and not standing still. At the same time, his mother remains somewhere below, behind, and they are connected only by something insignificant and fragile.

At the very end, readers can note a complete separation: “I reach towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky to fall or fly” (Armitage). The hero reaches a specific endpoint, from which he goes into full-fledged adulthood. Now he is free to choose his destiny and be responsible for his actions without his mother’s help. Besides, the dead is now felt much closer than in the beginning of the poem, which makes it similar to the Aubade.

Hence, Mother focuses mostly not on death but life and its processes. Undoubtedly, the topic of the relationship between the child and the mother throughout life is a matter of utmost importance. People need to always remember what their parents have done for them. Such disinterested and invaluable help cannot be obtained from anywhere else. However, at the same time, people need to realize that they will have to act independently at a particular stage of life.

Parents are no longer able to help the child in matters related to a truly adult life. They can provide moral support and are always ready to help, but separation must occur, no matter how sad it may be for both sides. Moreover, this relationship is inevitably associated with death. First, by taking full responsibility for life, a person understands much more about mortality. Second, unfortunately, many children face their parents dead. Thus, these themes are again closely intertwined.


Awareness of mortality is the most important impulse for human activity and any creativity. The fullness of life and self-realization in creation, creativity, and love become a worthy “preparation” for death. People who have cognized the fullness of life fear death much less and fear of death is only the result of an unfulfilled life. Therefore, people take responsibility for living their lives feeling happy, worthy, and fulfilled. In particular, realizing oneself both in family relationships and in work. Both poems reflect these ideas: they show the importance of the mindful existence and inevitability of the end. Undoubtedly, the ontological tragedy of finite being cannot be abolished. However, to live with its realization means to boldly face death. This makes it easier to experience difficulties, knowing that everything in this life is transitory. Therefore, the absolute value lies in every moment of being surrounded by valuable events and people. This should be remembered to live a fulfilling life and feel grateful for it.


Armitage, Simon. Genius, Web.

Larkin, Philip. Poetry Foundation, Web.

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