poems about life and death and meaning

Much poetry glosses over life and its joys, fate, destiny, our place in the Universe, illusion, pain without reason and the cruel element of life. 

The specific themes vary, but to sing, to cry or to speculate - in a philosophical form - about the life and its meaning is part of the repertoire of dozens of great writers.

Poetry – either in its most common form, or in prose – often comprises an existentialist or philosophical content or trace.

See:
Tobacco Kiosk, Fernando Pessoa
Life, Emile Bronte
Hamlet monologue on life and suicide, Shakespeare
Hymn to Brother Sun, Saint Francis of Assisi

Emile Bronte poem on life and its meaning

LIFE

Life represents a juvenile and optimistic way of feeling the live. It can be seen as a rather childish and naive view of life, far from the depth of other views, but it can also be seen as an unpretentious way of sensing the world, with all the intense and positive feelings and meaning that only the young can attribute to life...

LIFE, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day. 
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall? 

Rapidly, merrily,
Life's sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily,
Enjoy them as they fly!

What though Death at times steps in
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O'er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!
Emile Bronte, 1818-48, English writer, Life

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See:
Tobacco Kiosk, Fernando Pessoa
Hamlet monologue on life and suicide, Shakespeare
Hymn to Brother Sun, Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi meaning of life

HYMN TO BROTHER SUN

The Canticle of the Sun, conveys the personal philosophy of life and theology of St. Francis of Assisi, and another view of life and a denying of our civilization and our values. Treating the animals as our brothers and sisters, thanking God for the Brother Sun and the Sister Water, refusing material accumulation and favoring "Lady Poverty" sounds strangely, in a world where humility is no longer a acknowledged virtue and the meaning of life sounds very differently...

Most high, omnipotent good Lord! 
All yours is praise, glory, honour 
And all blessing
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. 
No human lips are worthy  
To pronounce Your name.
Be praised, my Lord
Through all your creatures
Especially through my lord Brother Sun
Who brings the day
And the light that warms us
He that is beautiful and radiant  
In all his splendor! 
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord 
Through Sister Moon and the Stars;
In the heavens you have made them
Precious and beautiful. 
Be praised, my Lord
Through Brothers Wind  
And air, and clouds and storms,
And all the weather, 
Through which you give your creatures sustenance. 
Be praised, my Lord 
Through Sister Water; 
So very useful, and humble
And precious, and pure. 
Be praised, my Lord 
Through Brother Fire, 
Through whom you brighten the night. 
He who is beautiful and cheerful
And powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord
Through our sister Mother Earth
Who feeds and rules us, 
And produces various fruits 
And colored flowers and plants
Be praised, my Lord
Through those who forgive for love of you; 
And endure sickness and trial. 
Happy those who endure in peace 
For by you, Most High, they will be crowned. 
Be praised, my Lord 
Through our Sister Bodily Death, 
From whose embrace no living person can escape. 
Woe to those who die in mortal sin! 
Happy those she finds 
Doing your most holy will. 
The second death can do no harm to them! 
Praise and bless my Lord
And give thanks
And serve him with great humility.
St Francis of Assisi, 1181-1226, Hymn to Brother Sun

 

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See:
Tobacco Kiosk, Fernando Pessoa
Hamlet monologue on life and suicide, Shakespeare

Shakespeare poetry & The Purpose of Life

HAMLET MONOLOGUE ABOUT LIFE AND THE SUICIDE

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end 
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks 
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation 
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep; 
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub; 
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come 
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, 
Must give us pause: there's the respect 
That makes calamity of so long life; 
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, 
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay, 
The insolence of office and the spurns 
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make 
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear, 
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will 
And makes us rather bear those ills we have 
Than fly to others that we know not of? 
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution 
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.
Shakespeare, 1564-1616, English writer, Hamlet

See:
Tobacco Kiosk, Fernando Pessoa

EssaY
poems on life and death

Poetry – either in its most common form, or in prose – often comprises an existentialist or philosophical content or trace. Much poetry glosses over life and its joys, fate, destiny, our place in the Universe, illusion, pain without reason and the cruel element of life. The specific themes vary, but to sing, to cry or to speculate - in a philosophical form - about the meaning of life is part of the repertoire of dozens of great writers.

What did Cervantes do when he wrote:

«Blessings light on him who invented sleep, the cloak that covers all human thoughts, the meat that satisfies hunger, the drink for the thirst, the heat that warms cold, the cold that moderates heat, and, lastly, the common coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, the balance and weight that equalizes the king and the shepherd, the fool and the sage»?

Isn’t it existential philosophy, as much as poetry?

What did the emperor Hadrian do when he wrote his epitaph, on the very eve of his death:

«Small errant soul, guest and companion of the body, where are you go now, pale, rigid and naked, without being able to play as before?»

And how should we classify some of the most beautiful biblical verses present in the Book of Ecclesiastes?  How should we classify the verses:

«Live joyfully with the wife whom you love 
All the days of your life of vanity
God has given you under the sun,
For that is your portion in life,
Among the labour days you have to support under the sun»?

They are obviously philosophy, as much as poetry. They are existentialist poetry and they are existentialist philosophy. And to give a major modern example, we can appeal to Fernando Pessoa. Poems such as Tobacco Kiosk are not only sublime and major examples of human poetic genius. They are also major examples of existentialist philosophy. Much of the poetry of Pessoa is also philosophy.

Listen to him:

«We have conquered the whole world before leaving our beds.
But we were awakened and it was dark,
We rose and all was strange to us.»

It’s obviously philosophy. Even when he rejects it, and says:

«I savour in the cigarette the liberation of thought.
I follow the smoke like a personal itinerary
And enjoy, in a moment sensitive and capable,
The freedom of speculation
And the consciousness that metaphysic is only a result of illness.»

Or when he says: 

«Eat your chocolates, little one!
Eat your chocolates!
Know there are no metaphysics in the world but chocolates.»

There is more philosophy in some poetry than in many assumed philosophical arguments.

We may object: but isn’t Pessoa’s philosophical theme - and all the other cited cases - too repetitive? Isn’t the poetry about the meaning of life too limited, too restricted to the transmission of banal philosophical equations? Is it really possible to philosophise, in its higher sense, through poetry, without true arguments?

In a theme such as the purpose and meaning of life, yes. In this case, to understand life, to give it a meaning or to refuse it depends deeply on our feelings, perhaps more than on our reason... 

Profundity can be intimately connected to beauty, to art, to novelty, to the ability of the writer to touch our souls, our joy, our sadness, our astonishment, or his ability to open new horizons of awareness, rather than just abstract reasoning and argument. That’s why poetry and literature can be major vehicles of philosophising.

 

 

 

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