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Themes

Death opens this poem in a big way. It’s hard to think about a contagious hospital without thinking about the possibility of death. If that wasn’t enough, the landscape turns out to be dead, too. Check out the "dried weeds, standing and fallen," and the "dead, brown leaves." Ultimately, the whole world we see in this poem is "lifeless in appearance." That last word is key, though. While a disease might make you really dead, the land only "appears dead." The payoff in the poem, the heartwarming conclusion, is that this isn’t the scary kind of death, but the kind that leads to rebirth.

Questions About Mortality

  1. Many religions are concerned with the idea of death and rebirth, and celebrate the changing of the seasons in one way or another. Do you see religious or spiritual aspects in this poem?
  2. If you had to choose, does this poem seem more interested in death or life? If you described this poem to someone else, which theme would you choose to highlight?
  3. Does the poem draw a line between death for humans and death for nature? How does it describe these two states?

Chew on This

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

Williams’s poem is an allegory for spiritual rebirth. It argues that plants, animals, and humans, as parts of the natural world, go through a cycle of death and resurrection/reincarnation.

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