'On Death' by Anne Killigrew

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1Tell me thou safest End of all our Woe,
2Why wretched Mortals do avoid thee so:
3Thou gentle drier o' th' afflicted Tears,
4Thou noble ender of the Cowards Fears;
5Thou sweet Repose to Lovers sad dispaire,
6Thou Calm t' Ambitions rough Tempstuous Care.
7If in regard of Bliss thou wert a Curse,
8And then the Joys of Paradise art worse;
9Yet after Man from his first Station fell,
10 And God fromEden Adam did expel,
11 Thou wert no more an Evil, but Relief;
12 The Balm and Cure to ev'ry Humane Grief:
13 Through thee (what Man had forfeited before)
14 He now enjoys, and ne'r can loose it more.
15 No subtile Serpents in the Grave betray,
16 Worms on the Body there, not Soul do prey;
17 No Vice there Tempts, no Terrors there afright,
18 No Coz'ning Sin affords a false delight:
19 No vain Contentions do that Peace annoy,
20 No feirce Alarms break the lasting Joy.
22 Such real Good as Life can never know;
23 Come when thou wilt, in thy afrighting'st Dress,
24 Thy Shape shall never make thy Welcome less.
25 Thou mayst to Joy, but ne'er to Fear give Birth,
26 Thou Best, as well as Certain'st thing on Earth.
27 Fly thee? May Travellers then fly their Rest,
28 And hungry Infants fly the profer'd Brest.
29 No, those that faint and tremble at thy Name,
30 Fly from their Good on a mistaken Fame.
31 Thus Childish fear didIsrael of old
32 From Plenty and the Promis'd Land with-hold;
33 They fancy'd Giants, and refus'd to go,
34 When Canaan did with Milk and Honey flow.

Editor 1 Interpretation

On Death: A Masterpiece of Poetry by Anne Killigrew

Anne Killigrew was a remarkably talented poet who lived in the seventeenth century. Her poetry has received critical acclaim and praise for centuries. One of her most impressive works is "On Death," in which she examines the inevitable end of life. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will analyze Killigrew's "On Death" in detail, exploring the themes, imagery, and language she employs to deliver a powerful message about mortality.

The Poem

"On Death" is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem that explores the concept of death. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, introducing the theme and the speaker's perspective.

1. Man's life's a tragedy: his parents' womb
2. From which he enters, is the tyrant's tomb;
3. This world the stage, and actors, they and we
4. The apron wide, where all the scenes we see;
5. And, though the play be for a time called over,
6. No death the actors from the stage can cover.

Killigrew begins by stating that life is a tragedy, a view that many people hold. She describes the womb as the tomb of the tyrant, indicating that we are all born into a world where we have limited control. The world is depicted as a stage and human beings as actors, suggesting that life is a performance. The reference to the "apron wide" alludes to the stage's edge, where the actors typically enter and exit. Killigrew notes that even though the play may end, death cannot cover up the actors' performances.

The second stanza reinforces the themes introduced in the first stanza, emphasizing the fleeting nature of life.

7. This play of heaven's high Lord was writ by fate,
8. And each man acts in what he knows not what;
9. His time being short, and in his hand the glass
10. That runs apace, to bring his life to pass;
11. He sighs, and pants, and struggles with the stream,
12. Which forward bears him like a sliding dream

Killigrew posits that life is "a play of heaven's high Lord," suggesting that God is the playwright. She also suggests that people act in a play without knowing what the outcome will be. The reference to the glass that runs apace echoes the idea of fleeting time. The speaker notes that human beings struggle with the stream of life, which carries them forward like a dream.

The third stanza provides a more detailed reflection on the theme of death.

13. Though life's a voyage, and from birth to death
14. The longest port's but the last stopping breath;
15. In this black pilate boat we row all o'er
16. The seas of troubles, to the wish'd-for shore;
17. Yet, like bold seamen, still do we stand out,
18. And urge the unwilling vessel to the doubt

Killigrew compares life to a voyage, highlighting the fact that death is the final destination. She describes life as a journey through seas of trouble, with the ultimate goal being the "wish'd-for shore." However, she observes that people continue to push forward, even though they may be unsure of the outcome.

The fourth stanza examines the idea of the afterlife.

19. But, ah! What hopes, what terrours does it bring,
20. Who knows no more of it than what they sing?
21. Some sing of heaven, some of hellish pain;
22. But none yet come, whence these things they maintain;
23. O may we weep, and from ourselves remove
24. These false opinions which the world doth love!

Killigrew notes that people have differing views on the afterlife, with some imagining heaven and others hellish pain. However, she suggests that no one truly knows what the afterlife holds. She urges readers to question and challenge these false opinions.

The fifth stanza concludes the poem, emphasizing the importance of leading a virtuous life.

25. O Father of eternal life, and grace,
26. Vouchsafe to grant us thy beloved face;
27. When, fraught with these vain shadows of the night,
28. We shall advance to that purest of light;
29. That, when the soul, abandoned, shall have flown
30. To seek that region where 't is only known
31. What 't is to be an everlasting guest,
32. We may not meet the Judge among the rest.

Killigrew concludes by calling upon God to grant readers his "beloved face" and guide them towards the "purest of light" after death. She suggests that living a virtuous life is crucial to avoid meeting the Judge among the rest.


The theme of mortality is central to "On Death." Killigrew examines the inevitability of death, highlighting the fleeting nature of life. She also explores the concept of the afterlife, urging readers to question their beliefs and live virtuously.


Killigrew's use of metaphors and imagery throughout the poem adds depth and meaning to the text. She compares life to a voyage, a play, and a dream. These comparisons reinforce the theme of mortality and emphasize the fleeting nature of life. The use of nautical imagery, such as the reference to the "seas of troubles," adds a poetic quality to the text.


Killigrew's language is eloquent and lyrical, adding to the poem's beauty and power. She employs a range of poetic devices, such as alliteration and repetition, to enhance the text's emotional impact. The use of diction, such as "tyrant's tomb" and "black pilate boat," adds a somber tone to the piece.


Anne Killigrew's "On Death" is a masterful work of poetry that explores the concept of mortality. Through her use of imagery, language, and themes, Killigrew delivers a powerful message about the fleeting nature of life and the importance of living virtuously. The poem's enduring popularity is a testament to Killigrew's skill as a poet and her ability to connect with readers on a fundamental level.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry On Death by Anne Killigrew: A Masterpiece of Elegiac Poetry

Anne Killigrew, an English poet and painter, was born in 1660 in London. She was the daughter of Dr. Henry Killigrew, a chaplain to King Charles II. Anne was a prodigious talent, and her works were highly praised by her contemporaries. Unfortunately, she died at the young age of 25 due to smallpox. However, her legacy lives on through her poetry and paintings. One of her most famous works is Poetry On Death, which is a masterpiece of elegiac poetry.

Elegiac poetry is a form of poetry that expresses sorrow or lamentation for the dead. It is a genre that has been present in literature since ancient times. In Poetry On Death, Anne Killigrew explores the theme of death and its inevitability. The poem is divided into three stanzas, each with a different focus.

The first stanza of the poem is an introduction to the theme of death. Anne Killigrew starts by describing death as a universal experience that everyone must face. She writes, "All must to the darksome womb of earth, / Repay the common debt of death." This line sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It is a reminder that death is an inevitable part of life, and no one can escape it.

The second stanza of the poem is a reflection on the nature of death. Anne Killigrew describes death as a "silent sleep" and a "peaceful end." She writes, "Death's but a path that must be trod, / If man would ever pass to God." This line suggests that death is not something to be feared but rather embraced as a necessary step towards eternal life. Anne Killigrew's use of the word "peaceful" is significant because it suggests that death is not a painful experience but rather a release from the struggles of life.

The third and final stanza of the poem is a reflection on the afterlife. Anne Killigrew writes, "Why should we fear that which will come, / When it will come, and with a sum / Of joys that never shall expire?" This line suggests that death is not the end but rather a new beginning. Anne Killigrew's use of the word "joys" is significant because it suggests that the afterlife is a place of happiness and contentment.

One of the most striking aspects of Poetry On Death is Anne Killigrew's use of language. Her language is simple yet powerful. She uses metaphors and imagery to convey her message. For example, in the first stanza, she describes death as a "darksome womb of earth." This metaphor suggests that death is a place of rebirth, where one is returned to the earth to be born anew. In the second stanza, she describes death as a "silent sleep." This metaphor suggests that death is a peaceful and restful experience.

Another striking aspect of Poetry On Death is Anne Killigrew's use of rhyme and meter. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, which means that each line has four iambs. An iamb is a metrical foot consisting of two syllables, with the first syllable unstressed and the second syllable stressed. This meter gives the poem a musical quality and makes it easy to read and remember. The poem also has a consistent rhyme scheme, with each stanza following an ABABCC pattern.

In conclusion, Poetry On Death by Anne Killigrew is a masterpiece of elegiac poetry. It explores the theme of death and its inevitability. Anne Killigrew's use of language, metaphors, and imagery is powerful and effective. Her use of rhyme and meter gives the poem a musical quality and makes it easy to read and remember. Poetry On Death is a timeless work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

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