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This Hour and What Is Dead

This Hour and What Is Dead

by Li-Young Lee

Mortality Theme

We're going to go ahead and state the obvious here: with a word like "Dead" in the title, this poem is probably more than a little about death. In fact, "This Hour and What Is Dead" is downright obsessed with death. Throughout the poem, our speaker's thinking about his dead brother and father, and about the enduring love and connection between him and both of them, which haunts him to this day. Then, to top it off, when God appears, he brings even more death. This is not a happy poem folks, so consider yourselves warned.

Questions About Mortality

  1. Our speaker seems to blur the lines between imagination, memory, and reality, making it difficult to know for sure what's really going on. For instance, we don't quite know whether the father is remembered, imagined, or present. What is the effect of all this blurry confusion? Could it have something to do with the connection between the living and the dead?
  2. How does God fit in to our speaker's contemplation of death? What do you make of the statement that his breath contains human ash? Or the suggestion that God himself might die? Is this just creepy? Or is something a little more profound going on?
  3. What should we make of the repeated line, "Someone tell him he should sleep now"? Sleep is a little like death, so is our speaker implying that his brother and father are not really dead? Are they ghosts?
  4. Big Question Alert: How would our speaker define death? What, in the poem, helps you come to this definition?

Chew on This

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

In "This Hour and What Is Dead," the living and the dead do not occupy completely separate worlds, which causes the speaker all sorts of distress.

In this poem, to die means to be forgotten. Since the speaker can't forget his brother and father, they're not actually dead.

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