Study Guide

The Layers Death

By Stanley Kunitz


Sound the death knell but don't get too comfortable. "The Layers" deals with mortality in many indirect (and a few direct) instances. The poem both acknowledges and challenges the idea of finality, or death, in some intriguing ways. The speaker reflects on the deaths of others, and possibly even his own death… so is he speaking from the grave? Is he immortal? Are we all? These are some big questions—the hard, long-answer kind.

Questions About Death

  1. How does the speaker cope with the loss of his old friends?
  2. Is the speaker dead? No really, what do you think?
  3. What symbols does Kunitz use throughout the poem to signify death?
  4. How does this poem complicate the notion of mortality?

Chew on This

The speaker in "The Layers" portrays mortality as transient in nature instead of permanent. So, we've all got that going for us.

According to the poem, "death" is just a state of mind. (Yeah, this is controversial, but the speaker sure seems keen on the power of the human psyche.)

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