Walt Whitman’s poem Time to Come explores Whitman’s curiosity of what happens when people die. Rather than taking a pessimistic approach, his writing is more insightful about the experience. The title alone introduces an aspect of his purpose; to point out that dying is inevitable. With Whitman captures the reader’s attention and shares his curiosity with vivid images, sophisticated diction, and his use of metaphor and personification in Time to Come.
The theme of Time to Come presents the mystery of life after death and calls attention to how vulnerable it’s victims are. Whitman begins his poem with the strong metaphor “ O, Death! a black and pierceless pall” (1). This bold statement allows the reader quickly realize that the work will somehow be connected to death, but in an insightful manner. The alliteration of “pierceless pall” emphasizes death’s ruthless approach. Whitman then describes death as a “mystery of fate” that " No eye ...view middle of the document...
The structure of Time to Come is important for the development and organization of the poem, allowing the reader to follow Whitman’s train of thought.
Whitman’s attitude towards the subject is mostly unemotional. In the last few stanzas he expresses more curiosity and less literal ideas, but sentiment is generally preserved. He even writes that “the grave will tame [him,]” indicating that he is not afraid of death, and somewhat welcomes the idea (17). In this fifth stanza, the subject changes from the theme of inevitability to curiosity about what happens with the soul. Before this stanza, Whitman discussed universal thoughts about death, which leads to his final curiosity: the soul’s connection to its body. He presents a series of rhetorical questions: “where shall be the soul’s abiding place?… Will it e’en live?… ?” (19-21). These engage the reader in his eagerness to find out what really happens after death. However his last question, “when the oil of life is spent, Still shall the taper burn?” evokes the most interest because of it’s powerful connotation (23-24). The metaphor stands out and forces the reader to stop and think about the possibilities of “life’s oil.” Whitman emphasizes his use of figurative language to captivate the reader’s attention and express his wonder in an impressive way. After this final question, the rhyme scheme ends and Whitman reverts his writing back to the more subjective form. He describes the brain as “powerless” (25). This is similar to Whitman’s observation in the beginning that people are vulnerable to their fate. The last line ends with “uncertain awe it waits the common doom, to die” (28). Mimicking the first line, the words “death” and “die” stand out because of their bluntness. The poem starts and ends with these harsh statements, which causes the reader to take not of Whitman’s powerful message.
Whitman’s formal diction and clever use structure are important for the development of Time to Come. He also includes many literary devices, which help to emphasize meaning and keep the reader engaged. Time to Come is a carefully constructed poem, full of brilliant insights and quizzical ideas about people’s vulnerability to death and ignorance to what really happens to the soul.