10 of Our Favourite Quotes About Death 0

quotes about death

It should come as no surprise that when it comes to a matter as universal and profound as death, there exists an incredible number of wise words written and spoken over the years. We’ve searched through all the resources at our disposal to bring you our ten favourite quotes about death and, although most speak for themselves, we’ve contributed a little background information to put them into context.

 

While some tackle the subject of death from a philosophical angle, others take a more a humorous approach or try to place the event itself into perspective. We hope you enjoy our diverse selection of favourites and that they provoke some thought and reflection.

quotes about death

  1. ‘The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.’ – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero is one of the most famous and well-recognised Roman intellectuals in history. Living from 106 BCE to 43 BCE, he worked as a politician, philosopher, lawyer and orator, becoming one of the principal thinkers of the era. His quote reminds us that we all play a role in keeping the spirit and memory of the dead alive.

 

  1. ‘For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.’ – Khalil Gibran

The connection between life and death is a common topic for those that talk about dying, but not many people have been able to voice the idea as succinctly and beautifully as Lebanese-American artist, Khalil Gibran.

 

  1. ‘If life must not be taken too seriously, then so neither must death.’ – Samuel Butler

The famously iconoclastic and controversial English author, Samuel Butler, took the idea that ‘you can’t take life too seriously’ to its logical conclusion and applied it to death too.

 

  1. ‘Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.’ – Haruki Murakami

We often think of life and death as opposites, but the writer Haruki Murakami prefers to do away with such an illusion and considers them inextricably bound together.

 

  1. ‘I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.’ – Mark Twain

American intellectual Mark Twain liked to remind his readers that waking life is a very short and fleeting moment caught between imperceptibly long stretches of time, in order to place things in perspective.

 

  1. ‘How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind.’ – Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers was an American author who questioned whether or not we do in fact die when we stop breathing by asking if a part of us can live on in others’ memories and approaches to life.

 

  1. ‘To die will be an awfully big adventure.’ – J.M. Barrie

J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan, expressed a suitably child-like perspective on death by considering it to be the biggest adventure of all.

writing about death

  1. ‘As soon as one is born, one starts dying.’ – Luigi Pirandello

This famous Italian playwright, poet and novelist tried to frame death by arguing that from the very first moment of life, we are forced on a one way march toward death and get closer with each passing second.

 

  1. ‘It hath been often said, that it is not death, but dying, which is terrible.’ – Henry Fielding

Harry Fielding was an important writer in the 18th Century who made a distinction between the process of dying and the state of death, proposing it was the act, rather than the outcome, that most people were afraid of.

 

  1. ‘Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.’ – Bertolt Brecht

This well-known German intellectual also spoke about fear, but rather than suggesting that it was the process of dying that we are or ought to be afraid of, he declared the idea of an ‘inadequate life’ much more terrifying, highlighting the need to live in every moment.

Have we missed out a quote or a passage that helped you to overcome a fear of death, or to come to terms with loss? Share with us below!

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The Poetry of Remembrance: Pablo Neruda & Brian Patten 0

Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda, born on this day in 1904, is internationally recognised by many readers for his profound and diverse poetry. The subject matter of his work is extensive, ranging from lyrical celebrations of his native Chile to more sombre versifications on love, mortality and the ultimate transience of the human experience. Perhaps more significant, though, is Neruda’s recurrent emphasis on the importance of memory and time in shaping our response to events which, inevitably, will affect all of us at some point in our lives.

Pablo Neruda

 

Suffering bereavement is, unfortunately, one such event that will be experienced by each and every one of us. However, as celebrations of lives well-lived continue to demonstrate, it is in no small part through the act of remembrance that we can begin to reconcile with our grief and move forward beyond the absences left by the loss of our loved ones.

 

Although often overlooked in the everyday life of many people, poetry often acts as a spiritual balm for families during their most fragile moments. Even if we are not regular readers of poetry ourselves, it is often the case that the linguistic deployment of certain phrases, words and images can help us in giving positive expression to the heartfelt pain and emotion brought about by death. By reading poetry, we feel less isolated; we become connected to a universality of feeling that is usually contained in the private thoughts of others. Thinking about how someone else has dealt with their grief can bring a particular reprieve to our own personal hardships, and it is for this reason that poetry often plays a central role in the funeral service.

 

The process of grieving undoubtedly brings about contemplations of our own mortality, but such thoughts need not lead us further into despair. Indeed, in Neruda’s poem And How Long? the poet uses the motif of time to propose a string of probing questions that seek to force a reconsideration of traditionally accepted perspectives on life and death:

 

How long does a man live after all?

Does he live a thousand days, or only one?

A week, or several centuries?

How long does a man spend dying?

What does it mean to say ‘for ever’?

 

If Neruda’s questions provoke deeper thinking about life, loss, memory and time, then poet Brian Patten’s work, So many different lengths of time, provides us with a simple and heartfelt answer to these questions. By opening his poem with the above verse by Neruda, Patten establishes an immediate thematic link to the Chilean poet, but goes beyond the Chilean poet by seeking to overcome the looming finality of death. Patten’s poem argues that it is the act of remembrance which offers family members the best antidote to the anguish of loss. In tackling the subject of grief, Patten views poetry as performing an important social function: ‘Poetry helps us understand what we’ve forgotten to remember. It reminds us of things that are important to us when the world overtakes us emotionally.’

 

If Neruda asks, ‘How long does a man live after all?’, then Patten provides us with the simplest of answers: ‘A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us’. Although death brings much uncertainty and grief in its wake, the memories that we share with our families about those we have lost is no small consolation. As time unfolds, the importance of remembering those we love increases, and by talking, laughing and sharing stories with other people, we can ensure they remain with us forever. Patten’s poetry suggests that our dearly departed can attain a form of immortality through a continued presence within our thoughts and memories. In revisiting Patten’s poem on the anniversary of Pablo Neruda’s birth, we should take comfort in the knowledge that remembrance of the past –and of memories shared with those we have loved and lost– gives us a means of getting beyond grief and moving forward in our lives.

 

So many different lengths of time, Brian Patten

 

How long does a man live after all?
A thousand days or only one?
One week or a few centuries?
How long does a man spend living or dying
and what do we mean when we say gone forever?

Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification.
We can go to the philosophers
but they will weary of our questions.
We can go to the priests and rabbis
but they might be busy with administrations.

So, how long does a man live after all?
And how much does he live while he lives?
We fret and ask so many questions –
then when it comes to us
the answer is so simple after all.

A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a man lives.

His lover will carry his man’s scent, his touch:
his children will carry the weight of his love.
One friend will carry his arguments,
another will hum his favourite tunes,
another will still share his terrors.

And the days will pass with baffled faces,
then the weeks, then the months,
then there will be a day when no question is asked,
and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach
and the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day he will not have ceased
but will have ceased to be separated by death.

How long does a man live after all?
A man lives so many different lengths of time.

The BBC’s A Time To Live: Review 0

BBC A Time To Live

Last week the BBC ran a program called A Time To Live. A wonderfully touching display of death positivity that’s at times bitterly heart-wrenching, and at others hilarious; it’s a program well worth watching, reminding us that there can be beauty and dignity in death and end of life.

A Time To Live explores the stories of 12 individuals, all of whom have been diagnosed with a terminal condition that severely limits the time that they have left with family and friends. Ranging from twenty years old to seventy, the interviewees are diverse and unique, each providing the viewer with a completely different context, circumstance and way of processing the information they are forced to contend with. It provides a positive voice while answering the valuable question: ‘what do you learn about life, when you’re facing death?’

Bookending an hour-long exploration of what it means to live with a terminal illness, film maker and narrator Sue Bourne twice makes the suggestion that her film isn’t about dying at all, and is in fact primarily concerned with living. Although death plays a major role in the documentary, it’s a testament to those involved, both interviewer and interviewee, that her assertion rings true.

End of life

Watching A Time to Live, we reflected on how as human beings, we will respond to news of our imminent death in an almost infinite number of ways. Whereas our first interviewee, Fi, decided to return to work after her diagnosis, determined not to let her illness dictate how she lived the last months of her life, others retire early to spend time with their family, take time off to travel the world or turn to long distance running.

Bourne is careful not to make any moral judgement about the decisions taken by the 12 participants and though the viewer is sometimes left feeling as though a particular individual’s response to the situation would be at odds with their own, each is presented in an understanding and sympathetic manner that leaves you stunned at how consistently humans respond to adversity with strength and dignity. The interviews are so dextrously handled that the program never feels voyeuristic, rather you are made to feel as though you have been invited into the front room of the subject.

Many of the interviewees also offer a unique insight into some of the lesser discussed issues surrounding untimely death. There are segments concerned with topics like dying with regrets and the desire to make things right, with planning for the future of a family, with how you measure the worth of a life,  and with how you choose to spend the remainder of your time.

Throughout it all, the intensity of being confronted by one’s own mortality is a recurrent theme. For some, it’s the catalyst for drastic change, for others, it renders the world more significant and detailed, with every moment to be savoured. For everyone involved, it appears to require a radical reappraisal of what we think we know and the way in which we approach life.

Discussing the subject with 12 participants highlights how necessarily different our coping mechanisms must be. A young twenty-something who hasn’t had a long life cannot process their mortality in the same way as a seventy-year-old who feels that they’ve made the most of their many years. Likewise, someone without children will have to deal with a very different type of grief and pain when compared to someone with a young family. For some, faith provides a framework through which to understand their situation, while for others friendship or companionship prove invaluable.

A Time to Live is a thoughtful and insightful exploration of how people continue to live and struggle, despite the end being close at hand. Some watching might find the program’s honest display of humour, sadness, joy, fear, positivity and strength to be a testing rollercoaster of emotions, but these will, by the end, all be surpassed by an overriding sense of awe at how capable human beings are of facing extreme hardship head on. With A Time To Live, Bourne has created a television show that provides us with an opportunity to understand what other people are feeling and coping with at the end of their lives, while also forcing us to take a long, hard look at our own attitudes towards life and death.

From all of us here at Beyond, we’d like to offer our best wishes to the 12 individuals depicted and their families.

A Time To Live is available on BBC iplayer until June 16th.

If you are nearing the end of your life, you may wish to consider a funeral plan. This can ease the financial burden of a funeral, while also ensuring that your funeral will be as you want it to be.