Intimations of Mortality

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 1.58.40 PMPlato, Montaigne, Pascal—those were the major figures in the philosophical pantheon of my student days. But concurrently, in my literature classes, I came to be moved by poems such as John Donne’s defiant sonnet “Death Be Not Proud,” which concludes on the paradoxically triumphant note that, for the dead, death shall be no more, that death shall die. I was later even more moved—no doubt because of the association with the horrors of Stalin’s regime—by the poet Anna Akhmatova’s lyric utterances about the regenerative virtues of the poetic logos, the Word that causes death’s defeat. These sounded to me like true declarations of freedom. — Victor Brombert reflects on death, in The Chronicle of Higher Education.