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Themes

Though the only specific family member we hear about in "Epitaph for an Old Woman" is the old woman's husband, it's important to think about the significance of the wife's burial in the family tomb. This detail tells us a lot about who the woman is. It also tells us who the "they" burying her might be and how they might feel about her death. Though it's not the main focus of the poem, family plays an important role in this woman's death and burial. So, while reading, we should think about how family connects to this woman's life and death. For the rest of us, family is often a group of strangers that we have to spend time with over awkward holiday meals. After reading this poem, though, we might also think about how family is involved in the life and death of us all.

Questions About Family

  1. Do you think the "they" mentioned in the poem are family? Why, or why not? If yes, what family members do you imagine are present? 
  2. What is the significance of the husband in this poem? 
  3. What role do you think this woman played in her family? Use your imagination.

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The moment of her burial confirms how important family is to the woman being buried. (Hint: super-important.)

Good news/bad news: This poem shows that sorrow and death are as much a part of family life as joy and life.

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