Dying: An Introduction

Sissman, L. E. (Louis Edward)

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Apr-21-1999
  • Last revised: Aug-17-2006


This five-part poem sketches five vignettes of the poet’s life. First, he sits in the doctor’s waiting room. Second, the doctor says " ’this lump is probably nothing, but . . . ’ " Third, the poet has a biopsy. Fourth, the pathology report, which is positive, " ’But be glad / These things are treatable today . . . Why, fifteen years ago --’ " Finally, the poet is outside on the street, observing "through my / Invisible new veil / Of finity . . . / November’s world."


Sissman developed Hodgkin’s Disease in 1965, when he was 37 years old. He lived another ten years, during which he wrote most of his mature poetry and published three collections. This is the title poem of his first book, published in 1968.

The poem evokes the seemingly ordinary events surrounding a person’s initial confrontation with his own mortality. A person becomes a patient and "probably nothing" becomes his mortal enemy. See also other related poems by Sissman:  Dying: A Resurrection, 1969A Deathplace (annotated by Jack Coulehan and by  Lois Nixon); and Homage to Clotho: A Hospital Suite, annotated by James Terry and by  Lois Nixon) in this database.

Primary Source

Hello Darkness


Little, Brown

Place Published





Peter Davison