Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning in Western Literature

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"There are two absolutes; an inescapable pattern in the entire existence of Humankind:
the awareness of life,
the arrival of death.

Of the two, death is the most mysterious."
-Adrienne Nater

The bounds of social class, financial status, piety, inequities matters not. Afterlife, it is death that comes to and for all; it arrives for some sooner, some later, but it comes. It may come gently, violently, predictably, suddenly, deserved, unwarranted, too soon, too late, by choice or not, death is the ultimate, the greatest realization of the human’s intellect. For many, it is the definitive welcomed goal, for others, it is the glory of sacrifice, still for others, it is a mystery, or it may be a great, crippling fear, are we or are we not? Is it all over when it is over?

During the five thousand years of known literary expression, save for several hundred years of silence, authors have achieved all manner of technique in the connecting of death and death’s sphere of significance. Literary images regarding experiences after death, or in the grave, or in the Heavens generally do not appear except in The New Testament’s Four Gospels Culture contributes such an important part in the attitudes concerning death. But no matter the cultural intentions — It is Death itself that occupies the thinking of humanity.

We all desire to find meaning, the sense of dying, and death. Fighting, fearing death is of no value in the scheme of living. Literary consideration of death is a challenging concept that each writer approaches according to his own set of cultural beliefs, experiences, observations, and imagination.

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The organization of this anthology is by chronological order. It may be read thus or with a focus on any of the following:

  • 1 Development of language, syntax, vocabulary
  • 2 Progress and diversity in writing techniques
  • 3 Melodramatic to factual to melodramatic
  • 4 Cultural influences from country to country
  • 5 Historical, political, social evolutions
  • 6 Religious vs. Atheistic influences
  • 7 The heroic, the punitive, or the retributive reflections
  • 8 Wartime vs. peacetime expressions
  • 9 Men vs. Women
  • 10 Poor vs. rich vs. middle class
  • 11 Warriors vs. citizens
  • 12 Personal vs. public versions
  • 13 Agricultural vs. Industrial pressures
  • 14 Beauty vs. The Beast
  • 15 The Frailty of Humanity

This is a sampling of writing; included may be considered in the literary sphere of “The Greatest” to the “Excellent” to the “Good” to the “Obscure.” All accomplish the task, each in his specific genre. Each reflects the influences of his time in writing about a timeless subject.

An index is provided to assist in the specific areas of interest.

Consider this your adventure into the world of words in the literature of dying, death, grief, and mourning. Further, it is my hope that you may find yourself seeking out and reading some of the complete texts from which these fragments are drawn.