Poetry and the Dying
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This essay demonstrates some of the roles poetry can play as people confront the death of loved ones and their own dying. The first half deals mainly with a creative outpouring sustained for eight years, by means of which the great German poet Heine transformed his agony into triumphant art. The second half chronicles a moment in the lives of college students completing a thanatology course. The poetry of two participants, both in advanced stages of neurological disease and totally speech-impaired, was read aloud by others. Whatever impulse to patronize and pity might have existed at the outset, it soon became clear that through poetry—the courageous instrument of their terrors and wishes and questionings—these young people spoke for us all, taught us all how to approach our mortality.
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