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Aging and Death in Literature: Larkin and Shakespeare

Aging and death are inevitable parts of life and, as such, have a significant representation in culture. Different societies place different meaning on those things, some viewing death as the ultimate end to one’s existence, while others believing that it is only a transition to a different state of being. While medicine is almost universally interested in preventing death, or at least mitigating the negative effects of aging, in popular culture aging can be associated with nobility and wisdom.

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Comparisons

Philip Larkin’s “The Old Fools” and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 64 present contrasting views of aging and mortality. In “The Old Fools,” aging and ultimately death are represented as a disintegration and loss of identity, an isolation and separation between one’s inner self and outer, a state between “here” and “there” (Larkin, 1973). Shakespeare’s (1609c) representation of mortality and death is similarly inevitable, but in this inevitability it strengthens one’s identity.

Immortality, freedom from death, is also viewed differently in sources. “Death be not Proud” by John Donne (1633) shows it as liberating one from the slavery of war, poison, desperate men, and other dangers. Lord Tennyson’s (1860) “Tithonius,” referencing the eponymous character from Greek myth, reminds the reader that eternal life without eternal youth is a terrible fate. Thus, while the former presents immortality as freeing quality, for Tennyson, it’s a source of dread.

In Sonnets 5 and 63, Shakespeare (1609a; 1609b) represents time and its passage as inevitable, but a source of fond memories as one’s negative experiences fade away. Donne’s (1633) “Death, be not Proud,” similarly, shows time as capable of healing wounds.

Between Larkin’s “The Old Fools” and Tennyson’s “Tithonius,” mortality and immortality are represented similarly to one another. As Larkin’s (1973) old people become isolated, feeble, confused, and start forgetting their identity, so does Tennyson’s (1860) Tithonius. Both characters become isolated from their surroundings, “The old fools” ultimately die, whereas Tithonius is doomed to being unable to connect to those around him.

References

Donne, J. (1633). Death, be not Proud. Poetry Foundation.

Larkin, P (1973). The Old Fools. All Poetry.

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Shakespeare, W. (1609a). Sonnet 5. Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Shakespeare, W. (1609b). Sonnet 63. Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Shakespeare, W. (1609c). Sonnet 64. Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

Tennyson, Lord Alfred (1860). Tithonius. Poetry Foundation.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, November 14). Aging and Death in Literature: Larkin and Shakespeare. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/aging-and-death-in-literature-larkin-and-shakespeare/

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StudyCorgi. "Aging and Death in Literature: Larkin and Shakespeare." November 14, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/aging-and-death-in-literature-larkin-and-shakespeare/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Aging and Death in Literature: Larkin and Shakespeare." November 14, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/aging-and-death-in-literature-larkin-and-shakespeare/.

References

StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Aging and Death in Literature: Larkin and Shakespeare'. 14 November.

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