Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Lonely Death - Adelaide Crapsey

In the cold I will rise, I will bathe
In waters of ice; myself
Will shiver, and shrive myself,
Alone in the dawn, and anoint
Forehead and feet and hands;
I will shutter the windows from light,
I will place in their sockets the four
Tall candles and set them a-flame
In the grey of the dawn; and myself
Will lay myself straight in my bed,
And draw the sheet under my chin.

What does it mean to be really, truly alone?  Adelaide Crapsey gives us an account of a lonely death, in which the narrator readies herself for death, from bathing, to confession, to preparation of the funeral bed, before finally laying down to die.  It's a bleak picture, but it is in no way pitiful, as I expected it to be.  Rather, I'm overwhelmed by the narrator's tremendous force of will.  Someone so alone could just lay down and die unwashed, without any sort of dignity, and no one would know.  That's not for this narrator, though.

This narrator is determined to face death head on, unbending, even in solitude.  They will rise, they will bathe.  Will is repeated so many times that's it's certainly no accident that the force of will was impressed upon me.  The repetition of the word "myself" contributes to this as well, best exemplified in the line "myself will lay myself straight in my bed."  No one else but "myself" will do it.  Myself is the actor and myself is the object of action.  It's a solitary figure of solitary strength.

There is dignity in every line of this poem, a constant railing against the knowledge that death finds us all alone.  Yes, death will take me, but on my terms, this poem seems to say.  Loneliness in this poem also means independence.  No one is there to take care of the narrator but no one is needed, because the strength of self is sufficient to conquer death, if only for a moment.  Even though there is no one to discover the passing and none to mourn, the effort is everything.

As a personal aside, I apologize, readers, for being dormant so long.  I've had a number of changes in my role at work which require much more of my time than before.  I work so much that it's difficult for me to find the time or mental effort to devote to writing about poetry.  Given though, how good this return to writing has made me feel, I will strive to make the time as best I can, and I hope you continue, reader, to make the time for poetry and art in your daily life.


  1. Glad to see A Poem a Day appearing in my inbox again. I missed them. What an interesting poem to come back on - I like it very much, and your commentary too. Don't you think, also, the last line contains an affirmation that the narrator is, for the present, still alive: the sheet is not drawn over her face, but under her chin - her face is as yet unshrouded and that final drawing up of the cloth to cover the face is for someone else to complete.

    1. Thanks for the reply Tig. It's nice to be writing again. I like your comment on the last line. I hadn't considered it from that angle, but I think you're really on to something.

      I'll do my best to keep poems coming to your inbox daily! Thanks for the support.