1. The Heart Wants What It Wants
For the classic death-enthusiast, there’s no poet like Emily Dickinson. She owned death poetry like Coleridge owned coke*:
The Heart asks Pleasure — first —
And then — Excuse from Pain —
And then — those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering —
And then — to go to sleep —
And then — if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor
The privilege to die —
*OK, it was opium, but coke sounded better, so eat my assonance.
Speaking of Coleridge….
2. One for the Masochists
If your morbid sense of despair and futility tends to take the form of thinking enviously about the people who get to die whilst dwelling on the horror of your own continued existence, then these lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are for you:
The many men, so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand thousand slimy things
Lived on; and so did I.
I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rotting deck,
And there the dead men lay.
I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.
I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.
3. Just Wait for It
But perhaps you prefer your poetic death-wishes to be more subtle and modern — to glide in sneakily at the end of the stanza with a devastating smack of casual nihilism? If so, look no further than this gem from The Waste Land:
After the torch-light red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and place and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
4. Macduff Will Be There Soon
Sometimes the profound longing for annihilation is best served with a heavy dollop of shitting-on-life; for this refined taste, there’s the Emperor of English Literature himself, Ol’ Willie:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
5. Yea, Sight and Sound and Silence Stings
Finally, if your craving for The End is more of a lyrical, elegant and deep-seated ache, may we suggest this selection from Rossetti’s Yet a Little While:
These days are long before I die:
To sit alone upon a thorn
Is what the nightingale forlorn
Does night by night continually:
She swells her heart to ecstasy
Until it bursts and she can die.
These days are long that wane and wax:
Waxeth and wanes the ghostly moon,
Achill and pale in cordial June:
What is it that she wandering lacks?
She seems as one that aches and aches,
Most sick to wane, most sick to wax.
There are a hundred subtle stings
To prick us in our daily walk:
A young fruit cankered on its stalk,
A strong bird snared for all his wings,
A nest that sang but never sings:
Yea sight and sound and silence stings.
There is a lack in solitude,
There is a load in throng of life:
One with another genders strife,
To be alone yet is not good:
I know but of one neighbourhood
At peace and full—death’s solitude.
Sleep soundly, dears, who lulled at last
Forget the bird and all her pains,
Forget the moon that waxes, wanes,
The leaf, the sting, the frostful blast:
Forget the troublous years that, past
In strife or ache, did end at last.