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by – Rosy Maria D’Souza, Issue XV, April 2016

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Introduction to the Author:

Rosy Maria D'SouzaRosy Maria D’Souza is a post graduate in History and English Literature with B. Ed. Teaching is her passion and she has been teaching for the past 20 years.

At present she is a teaching English and Social Science at Christ Academy, Koperkhairane, Navi Mumbai.







William Dean Howells was an American realist novelist and playwright. He was nick named as “The Dean of American Letters”. The young Howells was encouraged by his parents in his literary interests. His poems were published in 1873 and 1886 and a volume under the title ‘Stops of Various Quills’ was published in 1895. He has written a long series of poems, novels, sketches, stories, and essays, and has been perhaps the most continuous worker in the literary art among American writers.


This paper intends to explain that death is all powerful and nobody can challenge death.  It is inevitable. Nature and human beings cannot withstand death. One cannot escape from the claws of death. Death symbolizes silence, darkness and screams.


Key words:


Death, Nature, inevitability and symbols.



In the sonnet “The Bewildered Guest”, Howells explains that death is a mystery. He names death as bewildered guest.


Some say that we shall never see him, and some

            That we shall see him elsewhere, and then know

            Why we were bid. How long I am to stay

           I have not the least notion. None, they say,

          Was ever told when he should come or go


He explains death as a confused guest whom we never see. Though we see death of somebody, we do not have a little idea how long we are going to stay here. These words clearly show that death is a mystery and none of us are aware when we will be confronted with death. Thus death is natural phenomenon and everyone knows that death will come one or the other day to each and every living being.


But every now and then there bursts upon

The song and mirth a lamentable noise,

A sound of shrieks and sobs, that strikes our joys

Dumb in our breasts; and then, some one is gone


In this stanza Howells tries to explain that every day we hear some or the other dying and it is followed by sobs and shrieks of the near and dear ones. Death strikes our joys and there is a belief that we all one day meet each other after death. But no one knows where or when. But it is very much certain that we shall not meet the dead person here again on earth.


In the poem “Dead”, he tries to emphasize that death is an inevitable phenomenon. Whether we want or not, we are always confronted with the death of our near and dear ones.


Something lies in the room

Over against my own;

The windows are lit with a ghastly bloom

Of candles, burning alone,

Untrimmed, and all aflare

In the ghastly silence there!


Through this stanza, he tries to explain about the gloomy atmosphere in the room where the dead person is laid. Candles burn alone untrimmed and there is a ghastly silence all over the room.


People go by the door,

Tiptoe, holding their breath,

And hush the talk that they held before,

Lest they should waken Death,

That is awake all night

There in the candlelight!


This stanza explains how we maintain our calm when the dead body is laid. We hold our breath, walk very cautiously and hush our talk so as not to disturb the dead person! We are very careful and concerned of the dead.


Not only human beings, even the nature accepts death as a natural phenomenon. This is summed up through these words:


The cat upon the stairs

Watches with flamy eye


And claws at the banisters.


Even the cat knows how it is supposed to behave during death of a person at home.


The same notion of inevitability of death is mentioned in his other poems “From Generation To Generation” and “If”.

In the poem “From Generation To Generation”, he says:


Beware! Beware! Content you where you are,

And shun this evil star

Where we who are doomed to die,

Have our brief being and pass, we know not where or why.


Here he asks us to be content with ourselves and gives the hint that our stay on this planet is for a short period and we are destined to die, but we do not know where and why death will come to us. He tells us that it is the divine being who decides when and where he should send us death. Neither can we consent to it nor can we refuse it. It is not in our hands. As we have taken birth on this planet, death will also come to us. Nobody can stop death.


We have not to consent or to refuse;

It is not ours to choose:

We come because we must,

We know not by what law, if unjust or if just.


These same ideas are reflected in the poem “If”:


Yes, death is at the bottom of the cup,

And every one that lives must drink it up.


Thus we can conclude that, everything that has life has to come to an end. Birth and death are the two faces of same coin. It is the divine being who decides our birth and death. It is not in our hands. We cannot escape from the claws of death.






  • “Poems by William Dean Howells”., 2002, Web 30 March 2016. < http://>


  • “Biography of William Dean Howells”., 2015, Web 30 March 2016. <>


  • “William Dean Howells” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc, 29 March 2016, Web 30 March 2016. <>
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