It Is Easy to Be Fascinated with Death

Hirschfield, Jane

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: May-10-2003


The first line of this short poem sets the stage: "It is easy to be fascinated with death." The next four lines sketch the play or tableau: "We pretend to prepare," children trying on our parents oversized clothes in front of a mirror and making believe that we are going to go out into the fancy nighttime world of adulthood. But the next line throws open our safety valve, "Yet we trust we are not truly going to dinner." In fact, it's all just a game: the clothes are really too big, our hands are much too small to handle the glasses and silverware, and we are just little kids, after all. [8 lines]


This 8-line poem is an ideal addition to a set of short meditations on death and dying for students in the health professions, or for anyone. There is a striking paradox in the contemporary American fascination with death. Those who decry the grossly inadequate care we provide for dying patients in our society attribute the problem to "denial of death." Supposedly, our physicians, health care institutions, and society in general, view death as the ultimate enemy; and they continue the struggle against death so long and so forcefully that they, in essence, deny the real presence of death in the natural world.

On the other hand, we live in a violent society in which death seems to be on everyone's mind and lips. We gorge ourselves on murder and mayhem. In many other parts of the world, America is viewed as a dangerous, and often deadly, place. So what's the deal? How can we be called a death-denying society when depictions of death are among our principal forms of entertainment?

This poem suggests an answer. "It is easy to be fascinated with death" when you're just pretending, when you can easily walk away from the mirror and take off the too-big clothes. But it's a different story when the days comes on which you discover that the clothes fit, and that night you really ARE invited out to dinner.

In another poem in this collection ("Against Loss"), Jane Hirshfield writes, "For wasn't the point / that stories, like love, / are spelled out on the skin against loss?"

Primary Source

Of Gravity and Angels


Wesleyan Univ. Press

Place Published

Middletown, Conn.