Language and tone in Death

Everyday diction

The language Herbert uses in Death is remarkably simple for such a complex theological subject. The diction is everyday: sticks and stones, bones and pillows. The time words are significant. The placing of ‘once' right at the beginning implies ‘but not now', which affects the whole tone of the poem. ‘Some six/Or ten years hence' is very precise dating, emphasising how time-bound our imagination is. The ‘since' of stanza four deliberately dissolves this time-scale. Christ died two thousand years ago, but how then is the ‘six or ten years' to apply to the reader? The answer lies in the thought that until people apply the hope offered by Christ's death to themselves in an act of faith, then they are living as if in pre-Christian times.

Investigating Death
  • Look at the language Herbert uses in Death
    • Pick out the words which denote physical ugliness and physical beauty
    • Are there any abstract words?
      • Or are all the words concrete and material?
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