Larkin on the Fear of Death

I have been thinking for a while about the fear of death. Many people mention to me how terrified they are of death, and I know this is common. Some college students recently asked me about dying, and questions about what I was most scared of were at the forefront.

But I don’t share this fear myself, and I couldn’t quite grasp the substance of it. Then Carmine Starnino brought this poem by Philip Larkin to my attention. It articulates that fear so sharply, so painfully. (Warning: this poem is very bleak!)


More accurately than fear, what I think this poem articulates is a dread of death. This I can understand, even though I don’t feel it. To so intensely not want to be deprived, all at once, of every single thing we cherish, including our very selves, but be powerless to avoid it–this is to dread death.

If you think this poem doesn’t quite express your own fear of death, I would love to hear from you!

For the record, I know it is possible to get past that dread to make peace with death, and that doing so is very much worthwhile. It allows us to ponder our mortality in a much more constructive way that can help us not only face death with serenity, but also set ourselves on our best path through life. If we always turn from death in dread or get stuck in fear, we never learn its invaluable lessons. More on that in another post soon!

About susanbriscoe

English teacher, writer
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16 Responses to Larkin on the Fear of Death

  1. Lois says:

    That poem says it all. To me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lalie says:

    I’m not sure if I want to thank you for this poem – it does too good a job of articulating my fear/dread of death! But yes – thank you for this.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t fear death itself. I will either still be somewhere/something or it will be nothing. I do see more often as a nurse people’s fear of dying. Most of the people I have been with when death comes are ready to let go and most are not afraid.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Karen says:

    Death personally is a transition like birth. It holds no frightening connotations. My brother was petrified about it on the phone the other day as our father is facing his last journey shortly. My father and I both feel serene about this and hopefully I will continue to do so when death’s challenge faces me. Thank you Susan for the love and compassion you have shared with us with so much courage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • susanbriscoe says:

      I am so glad you and your father feel serene as he approaches death. I do hope your brother gets there too! I agree with you that it is simply very much like birth, the necessarily paired transitions, bookends to life.
      I wish your family continued peace and courage.


  5. Fearing death will not delay it . Taking no risk will not delay it .. Death will swallow you when it has to .. the least you can do is stop worrying and try to live as much as possible before your eyelids refuse to open forever

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That poem though 😭👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Daniel Laguitton says:

    Dear Susan,
    What a wonderful exercise in vulnerability, that human gateway to truth and (thus) to Love. Thank you for it.
    Reading through some of the posts, the line that jumped to my face above all was your son Oliver’s words: “I thought about the kind of life she had lived up until that point – a life of striving to be kind, to be at one with nature…”
    I am struck by the fact that, knowing you only from a distance, I would have drawn pretty much the same traits and in same words as Oliver. “Striving to be kind”, what a great footprint and what an invitation for all to walk in your footsteps!
    As for the dread of death, I think that anyone who is not staring death in the eyes (their own, not someone else’s death) should be cautious about any pretense no to be afraid of it. From this glorious and sunny autumn morning, I will therefore be very cautious in stating that I try to cultivate a perspective on death and dying that resembles closing my eyes into a lover’s embrace, the lover being, in that instance, also the Great Mother. But who knows what I will do…
    Thank you for the footprints, Susan.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. susanbriscoe says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, Daniel. I would like to emphasize the word “striving” here too. l am so painfully conscious (though I do try to be forgiving and gentle with myself) of how often I fail to be kind, both to my loved ones, strangers, and others. It seems this will be an unperfected effort until my last moments! My natural impatience still too often wins out over my best intentions. Very humbling!
    As for the fear of death, you are right that we can only speak for our feelings in this moment. I may suddenly find myself afraid of the unknown, but I very much like your idea of being embraced again my the Great Mother, just as I was before entering this life. I can only hope that I will be in a state to remember and choose that feeling at the end. For now at least, being free of that fear is a great gift.
    Thank you also, Daniel, for nourishing our bodies, minds, and spirits with your poetry, wisdom, and wholesome foods over the years. Sutton certainly wouldn’t be the same without you!


    • Daniel Laguitton says:

      Thanks, Susan, and about “striving” you may remember these verses from Eliot’s Four Quartets:
      “For most of us, this is the aim
      Never here to be realised;
      Who are only undefeated
      Because we have gone on trying…”
      (The Dry Salvages)

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Ask Me Anything #9: Fear | The Death Project

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