Study Guide

Bearded Oaks Death

By Robert Penn Warren

Death

Sometimes when sunlight comes down at just the right angle, when you're with someone special, when everything feels so beautiful and still, it makes you feel completely alive, yet, at the same time, totally mortal. You feel like you can't say anything that will change things one way or another. You can't do anything. You are just lying there, suspended, waiting. "Bearded Oaks" is a poem that's positively drenched with this feeling. It is at once attuned to every changing nuance of light and time. Could this be what eternity feels like? The speaker would have you believe it is, if only in the hour-long, sampler size.

Questions About Death

  1. Do you think Warren wanted the beards of the oaks to convey age? Why or why not?
  2. Are there any positive features to death? If so, what?
  3. Is night always associated with death? What might be exceptions to this rule? 
  4. What is it about mortality that gives value to life?

Chew on This

Eternity, shmeternity. Our speaker is just afraid to die.

Not so fast there—it's actually his inevitable death, when he gets to join the cosmic elements, that consoles the speaker.

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