Donald Justice

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First Death

Justice, Donald

Last Updated: Aug-20-2023
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem


“First Death” is a 48-line poem divided into three equal sections of 8 rhyming couplets each, with a meter that is vaguely iambic tetrameter. Each section has as its title one of three consecutive days in June 1933 at the time of the young speaker’s grandmother’s death, presumably his first encounter with death. 

Most scholars reviewing his 2006 Collected Poems consider this to be an autobiographical poem, which well it might be since Justice would have been 8 at the time of this, his “first death”.   

Donald Justice has been described as "a poet's poet" and it is easy to discern why, after reading this poem, his colleagues held him in such high regard.  

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