Famous Death Poem

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) uses symbolism and strong imagery in this poem to show a person’s response to loss. It doesn’t matter how strong or tough you are; when an influential person in your life passes away, you feel the effects. Although this poem does show that we experience regrets with things left unsaid, our lives are made better by that person's influence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on Maya Angelou’s birthday (April 4) in 1968, and his death deeply affected her. In fact, she stopped celebrating her own birthday for many years.

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It wasn't until I lost my son recently that I can understand this poem. My son's life and his untimely death has forever altered my soul and my existence. I always considered myself a...

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When Great Trees Fall

Maya Angelou By more Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.

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Has this poem touched you? Share your story!

It wasn't until I lost my son recently that I can understand this poem. My son's life and his untimely death has forever altered my soul and my existence. I always considered myself a spiritual person, a believer of God. I have gone through past grief and deep sorrow in my life. The loss of my precious son has brought me to the foot of the cross of God like no other loss I've suffered. Although all loss is sorrowful, there are those in our life that are extremely difficult to deal with. I now believe God put those precious, special souls purposely in our life to teach us and to help us. When they leave this world, those of us who've been touched by them are forever changed. Deep down we know they are so very different, so special, so great a soul, and through their existence in our life and their departure from our life, we are left to come face to face with the most intense feelings, thoughts, and emotions we realize we never would have encountered if not for their precious existence in our life in the first place.

  • Joseph Crawford by Joseph Crawford
  • 5 months ago

I lost my partner of 17 years in 2018. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. The poem reminds me of him because he was like a great tree. He was my rock. I miss him so very much. I can't believe it has been a year, but it seems like yesterday. I will always love and chairish the time we had. Rest in peace, Kerry. I love you.

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