Imagery and symbolism in Death

Visual imagery

Egg shell by Kim Pardi, available through Creative CommonsThe imagery of Death is visual rather than metaphorical. The images in the first half would have been commonplace to Herbert's readers. One arresting metaphor is ‘The shells of fledge souls', where the body is seen like an egg-shell, left behind when the hatchling breaks free. The idea of the soul being contained in the body as a bird in the egg is Platonic rather than Christian, though Platonism was so popular in the seventeenth century that it coloured the Christian imagination.

More on Platonism: See Marvell's The Garden

Striking personification

As we have seen, the personification of the second half is striking in its reversal of stereotypes on both death and Doomsday, which was usually seen as a time of fearful judgement. We have only to look at Donne's At the Round Earth's Imagin'd Corners to see an example of the more typical imagery of the period. Herbert's imagination is seen at its most peaceful here, with images of physical beauty and clothing.

Investigating Death
  • Consider the images Herbert uses in Death
    • What to you seem the most striking images?
    • Do you find Herbert's peacefulness something that is reassuring or irritating?
    • Is ‘die as sleep' meant to be a simile or a statement of faith?
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