"Don’t think that birth becomes death. Birth is its own time with its own past and future. Thus in the Teachings of Awake Reality, birth is known to be “unborn”. Death is its own time, with its own past and future. Thus death is realized as “deathlessness”. In birth there is only birth, in death there is only death. Thus, when birth comes realize birth. When death comes realize death. Do not avoid or desire either of them.

This birth and death is itself the life of Awake Awareness. If you struggle to escape it you will lose the life of Awake Awareness. Also if you try to grasp it you will lose the life of the Awakened One and all you will have is the husk. Only when you don’t crave for or despise birth and death will you enter Awake Awareness Do not try to measure it with your mind or describe it in words. Just cast body and mind into the realm of Awake Awareness. In this, you are free from birth and death and, without effort or worry, you become Awake If you realize this, there are no obstacles in your mind. This is simply becoming Awake. Refrain from unwholesome acts, do not grasp at birth and death, respect seniors and be kind to juniors, give up hope and fear, worry and grief. This is called Awake. Do not look elsewhere."

from Eihei Dogen zenji, Shobogenzo: Shoji, Birth and Death, translated by Yasuda Joshu Dainen and Anzan Hoshin, Progress Into the Ordinary, Great Matter Publications, 1986; used with permission

Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon
Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone -
Man has created death.

-- William Butler Yeats

A poem by Emily Brontë

Death! that struck when I was most confiding.
In my certain faith of joy to be--
Strike again, Time's withered branch dividing
From the fresh root of Eternity!

Leaves, upon Time's branch, were growing brightly,
Full of sap, and full of silver dew;
Birds beneath its shelter gathered nightly;
Daily round its flowers the wild bees flew.

Sorrow passed, and plucked the golden blossom;
Guilt stripped off the foliage in its pride
But, within its parent's kindly bosom,
Flowed for ever Life's restoring tide.

Little mourned I for the parted gladness,
For the vacant nest and silent song--
Hope was there, and laughed me out of sadness;
Whispering, "Winter will not linger long!"

And, behold! with tenfold increase blessing,
Spring adorned the beauty-burdened spray;
Wind and rain and fervent heat, caressing,
Lavished glory on that second May!

High it rose--no winged grief could sweep it;
Sin was scared to distance with its shine;
Love, and its own life, had power to keep it
From all wrong--from every blight but thine!

Cruel Death! The young leaves droop and languish;
Evening's gentle air may still restore--
No! the morning sunshine mocks my anguish-
Time, for me, must never blossom more!

Strike it down, that other boughs may flourish
Where that perished sapling used to be;
Thus, at least, its mouldering corpse will nourish
That from which it sprung--Eternity.

This is public domain

I walked down the stairs into the subway station. It was 4 AM.

The station seemed dead. I walked slowly down the platform to the very end, where I wait. Past the long abandoned and closed public restroom, with its ornate paint-and-tile encrusted entry. "WOMEN." Past the thoroughly embellished poster advertisements.

Nearing the halfway point, I was aware of activity across the tracks, on the northbound side. Track workers, I guessed. They were on the platform and down on the tracks themselves. I settled in for a long wait.

However, track workers do not wear bad suits, or gym slacks. Nor do they wear surgical gloves. Finally, I saw a badge. Across, on the platform ledge, a polaroid picture of something indistinguishable lay on the ground. I looked ahead; there was another one, and another, irregularly, every few feet or more. Other things; an empty wallet, some paper cards, pens and pencils, were scattered on the platform here and there. The police wandered back and forth, looking at them in turn. Another man in a cheap suit with an ID tag, obviously the station manager, went from policeman to policeman, talking quickly in low tones, pandering. I barely made out what he was saying. It was about "the schedule."

Down in the dark, infectious space between the tracks, it was brilliant, kool aid red. The color was impossible, way too bright, and it went on as far as I could see in either direction, stretching off into the southbound tunnel and clear to the middle of the platform, brimming halfway up the sides. The police carelessly avoided stepping in it as they shone maglites around under the lip of the platform, searching for things that they then picked up and dropped on the yellow painted edge above them. They joked with each other, and laughed, but in low tones.

Amazingly, the train came. I got on and went home and turned on the local news. Nothing about a death in the station. How many people had died today? Perhaps, the news desk would only consider it worth knowing about if it were a celebrity or a particularly gruesome murder. Or both. Perhaps, perhaps no one had actually died at all. Although I remembered the pictures, and the police - there had been 8, maybe 10 cops fishing through the muck. It was not the level of effort they went to for an assault or a mugging.

The next morning, as I sat, eating toast, I watched again. Still nothing.

It was just a death - nothing special about it. It would not make the news.

Anyway: I'm not blessed, or merciful. I'm just me. I've got a job to do, and I do it. Listen: even as we're talking, I'm there for old and young, innocent and guilty, those who die together and those who die alone. I'm in cars and boats and planes; in hospitals and forests and abbatoirs. For some folks death is a release, and for others death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end, I'm there for all of them.
Death, in Dream Country

Death is a manifestation of The Endless, a family of metaphorical personifications created by Neil Gaiman for The Sandman series of comic books which told the story of her brother Morpheus aka Dream. The others are Destiny, Desire, Despair, Destruction, and Delirium who used to be Delight. Of all the characters from Gaiman's stories, perhaps Death has triggered the most favoritism and positive response, because of the incredibly sensible and ideal approach he took with the character.

In one way or another, so many fear the idea of death; shuffling off this mortal coil and venturing off either into an unknown afterlife or just fading away into oblivion. There are countless beliefs throughout Mankind's history about what awaits us when we die. It is admittedly a combination of guesswork and blind faith because objectively speaking, we just don't know. We think we're right, and where we question our own beliefs, that's where the faith comes in. Though this character is the embodiment of death, she's not exactly what one might expect; instead she is what most people probably hope to find waiting for them after they've closed their eyes for the final time.

In Gaiman's world, there is no Grim Reaper. Gaiman's approach was to personify Death as a sensitive female with tender-hearted compassion for the individual, humor, and a very careful but not fastidious respect for her work. To her, it's a job. It is not something to relish and cause horror. It is not an opportunity to give each person a mad This Is Your Life presentation. She has a function to perform in the universe. She meets the person at the time of their death (sometimes a bit of time before) and tries to ease their shock a little bit, as she helps them get to where their soul is supposed to go.

You lived what anybody gets. You got a lifetime.
Death, in Brief Lives

She dresses provocative, but casual. She prefers black, but not out of mourning or to make a fashion statement. Contrary to popular opinion, she is not Goth; or rather if she is, she has been for a very long time, and the designation would not mean anything to her. If ever asked, she'd probably just shrug and explain she happens to like black.* She wears an ankh necklace, which is her sigil. She can change clothes in an instant to appeal to whomever is her charge at the time, but prefers a simple black tanktop and jeans if given the choice. She is easy on the eyes but not flashy, and her personality is one of an individual you would like to meet, but not necessarily get to know too well. **

Death is the oldest sister of the seven Endless, but she has one brother older than she: Destiny. She perhaps has the best relationship with each of the others, and rarely involves herself in the complicated politics of her family. She is also ironically enough, the most centered and psychologically stable of her family. Considering what her character would have to go through every day, one would think she'd be quite mad. Perhaps one of the reasons why she's so centered is because once a century she sort of takes a vacation. She walks among human beings as if she were one of them, and just appreciates their view of life. This keeps her in perspective, and allows her to approach her work in a kind and compassionate way, without being too cheesy about it. The comic book mini-series Death: the High Cost of Living shows her experience for the 20th century.

Quoting from Neil Gaiman about his creation: "Death {is} skinny and pale and elfin and sweet, with long dark hair and black clothes, and a silver ankh... There's a tale in the Caballa that suggests that the Angel of Death is so beautiful that on finally seeing it (or him, or her) you fall in love so hard, so fast, that your soul is pulled out through your eyes. I like that story."

In the end, Gaiman didn't want to create a Death that enjoyed her work too much, or who was painfully distressed and morose about her role. In his eyes, Death is simply someone who cares about the people whose lives she touches at the end, but not so much she can't detach herself and live her own existence. Though the second of The Endless to be bourne into existence, it is said in the Sandman series that she will be the last to go. When the final sunset has fallen on the final globe in space, and when the last star blinks out of the night's sky...

When the first living thing existed, I was there waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I'll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights, and lock the universe behind me as I leave.
Death, in Dream Country

Y'know what? I like that story.

* If you want to see what she looks like, there's some great fan-art over at http://www.best.com/~teleute/fanart/index.html
** Personally I'd like to get to know her very well, but then I'm a little loopy.

In the Marvel Universe, Death (who is more commonly referred to as Mistress Death) is one of the so-called abstract beings that embody various aspects of the universe. This means she is in the same class as Eternity, Infinity, Oblivion, Lord Chaos and Master Order, etc. Her face was first revealed in Captain Marvel #31, but let's face it, even in comics, Death has always been around.

She is always seen wearing a purple cloak, and generally takes two forms. She is seen either as a female or a skeleton, which is more in tune with the traditional Death image. She is always silent, preferring to speak through her minions. And of course, she is responsible for every death in the Marvel Universe.

As a general rule, the writers use her well, rather than oversaturating stories with her. She embraced Captain Marvel when he died of cancer, and met him on the other side. She is often seen standing passively by during universe-threatening conflicts, such as The Infinity Gauntlet, or when Adam Warlock confronted the Magus.

Perhaps the only mortal she gives any sort of special consideration is Thanos, who loved her. She actually brought him back from the dead in an improved form so that he might do her bidding. Still, she maintained her silence with him, which infuriated the Titan. When he obtained omnipotence with the Infinity Gauntlet, he thought she might finally speak to him since they would be equals. That was not the case, for the Infinity Gauntlet had actually made him her superior, and as such, she would not address him out of respect. As of now, Thanos doesn't much care for Death, but some writers love that angle quite a bit, so it may be resurrected at any time.

As far as other mortals Death has affected without killing them, Deadly Earnest kills everything he touches now because he spurned Death, so she made it so that he could never touch another living thing.

Death is easily one of the best characters in the Marvel Comics roster, one that writers can't mess around with too much, because Death is constant.

Death is something that happens to other people.

Just something to ponder -- it is, after all, the innate nature of the living to be unable to grasp the idea of Ending Someday. The idea that any one of those random horrible things that happen to "other people" could just as easily happen to you. The idea that if you were to die in your sleep, you wouldn't know as you closed your eyes that night. Your very last thought could be of what to put on your bagel tomorrow morning...or you could suddenly go out on a scream through a throatful of blood as your own intestines slither hot and wet through your fingers.

Not you, right? That won't happen to you. That kind of thing only happens to other people. You can't help subconsciously assuming that you'll get to gripe about old age; that'll you die of cancer, perhaps. Or a heart attack, after several warning attacks so you'll know to get your affairs in order. You can't help feeling that you'll have time to finish your plans and say your goodbyes before you check out.

Death, however, does not work around your schedule.

Think about how many, many ways there are to die. Think hard. One of them will happen to you someday.

Place your bet.

Death (the physical or incopereal, at least visible embodiement of our mortality) came in many forms across the globe. Man or woman, gaunt, pale farmers whose approach was heralded by the creaking of his cart (used to convey the dead) or a shadowy figure ghosting throngs of mortals. The former incarnation (sometimes known as the Ankou) likely gave the origins of the wicked-edged scythe, now seen in virtually every description of the (now named) Reaper of Souls. Perhaps a link to the Ankou's farmer-like appearance, the scythe indeed became a fitting tool in later years, as the plague cut a swathe across Europe. Swords were also favoured by the Ankou, as well as by other heralds of oblivion, oft seen at the head of some terrible hunt.

Such visions of ones mortality hardly instill a feeling of optimism, as shown in these examples of poetry (possibly written around the time of the 1665 plague epidemic of England, but just as likely to have been written at a later date).

The lantern bearer lights the way
For those who no more seize the day;
Blind eyes peer out of every head
That crowds the carriage of the dead.

A miser thought to keep his gold
As shield against the coming cold.
But what cared Death for mortal gains?
He smiled upon the misers pains.

Nor crown nor coin can halt times flight
Or stay the armies of the night.
King and villein, lad and lass,
All answer to the hour glass.

Her hour had come; his mother smiled
And sighed beside her infant child.
But he too, answered to the curse
And found himself an older nurse.

A gentle hand will help the dead
To find the way to their last bed;
Who engineers the mortal's end
Will tell you he is man's best friend.


In Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels, anthropomorphic personifications have at some point started to take on a life (or, in DEATH's case, an existence) of their own. And thus creatures such as the Hogfather (scary version of Santa), the Hair-Loss Fairy, and, naturally, DEATH have come into being as soon as there was people who imagined them into existence. Although there always was people dying, DEATH did not exist before people started to attribute traits to him. Actually, he's almost the oldest creature in the universe (obviously something had to die first...).

In fact, Death looks just like humans would think he would: Death is a seven-foot tall skeleton of polished bone with pinpoints of blue fire in his eye sockets. He wears a long black robe (in fact, black is his favorite color) which appears as if it has been woven from darkness itself (and probably has), carries a scythe, and usually appears just around the time of a person's death to sever the line that connects the body and the soul in order to send them on to whatever afterlife they believed in when alive. He is seen only by cats, professional practitioners of magic, and those who are about to die or are already dead. Where ever someone dies, he is already waiting, usually even taking the time for a quick chat (he prides himself on his personal service). His voice carries authority; in fact he speaks in capitals only, and he doesn't make bargains with his "clients." Well, not usually.

"When it's time to stop living, I will certainly make Death my number one choice!"
-- Rincewind in Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent

However, he is not the ruthless destroyer of legend, but rather a timeserver who has all Eternity to serve. He also "long gave up using the traditional skeletal horses, because of the bother of having to stop all the time to wire bits back on," so he now rides a real, living white steed named Binky. As one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, he is expected to ride out at the end of the world:

"It's going to look pretty good, then, isn't it," said War testily, "the One Horseman and Three Pedestrians of the Apocalypse." -- The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse encounter unexpected difficulties in Terry Pratchett's Sourcery

He tries very hard to understand mortals, but this effort is largely negated by his utter lack of anything even remotely resembling a sense of incongruity or a sense of humour. He does care for them, and in Reaper Man he defended them to Azrael against the soullessness of bureaucracy and also works against and finally fights the order-loving Auditors.

Despite rumour, he is not cruel. He is just terribly, terribly good at his job.

At one point (in Mort) he decides to become more human by living the life, finding a job and experiencing human existence in general, which doesn't really work, and simply confuses him further. He also quits his job (in Reaper Man), takes up farming and cooking, adopts a daughter, takes on an apprentice, becomes a grandfather (of Susan), stars in a movie, replaces the Hogfather for a short time, etc...

"Yes, point taken, but do you have any particular skills?"

-- Death consulting a job broker in Mort

He lives in a residence, outside normal space and time, which he has attempted (with variable success) to model on a human house. Of course, it is bigger on the inside than on the outside, the arched doorways are decorated with skull-and-bone motifs, and everything is black, including every plant in the garden. This house contains, among other things, a large room filled with shelf upon shelf of hourglasses. One hourglass for every living thing on Discworld. When the sand in an hourglass runs out, that particular individual will receive a visit from The Anthromorphic Personification Himself.

Galder: I said I hope it is a good party.
Galder: Why?

Death can be summoned by the Rite of AshkEnte, which requires either:

  • a) eight eighth-level wizards, a ceremonial octogram, rams' skulls, and dribbly candles
  • b) three small bits of wood and 2cc of mouse blood, or
  • c) two small bits of wood and a fresh egg.

-- Death gets summoned by the college council in Terry Pratchett's Eric

In my view, DEATH is one of Pratchett's funniest characters, the ultimate fact of life struggling with his own identity, watching the world of humans (and Dwarves, Trolls, Vampires, four Elephants on the back of a giant turtle) with great interest, but ultimately not understanding it, no matter how much he tries to. He is used for interflection of the human nature, but also for comic relief. Death appears in every Discworld novel (and game: he even stars in the second one), and most some other books by Pratchett as well, such as in the wonderful Good Omens:

"You're Hells Angels, then? What chapter are you from?"
-- Death in conversation with a biker in Terry Pratchett's & Neil Gaiman's Good Omens

Please excuse my lavish use of fair use quotes, but they help to illustrate the character better than my words ever could. Go buy the books, all of them!

Death (?), n. [OE. deth, dea, AS. de�xa0;; akin to OS. d, D. dood, G. tod, Icel. daui, Sw. & Dan. dod, Goth. daupus; from a verb meaning to die. See Die, v. i., and cf. Dead.]


The cessation of all vital phenomena without capability of resuscitation, either in animals or plants.

Local death is going on at times and in all parts of the living body, in which individual cells and elements are being cast off and replaced by new; a process essential to life. General death is of two kinds; death of the body as a whole (somatic or systemic death), and death of the tissues. By the former is implied the absolute cessation of the functions of the brain, the circulatory and the respiratory organs; by the latter the entire disappearance of the vital actions of the ultimate structural constituents of the body. When death takes place, the body as a whole dies first, the death of the tissues sometimes not occurring until after a considerable interval. Huxley.


Total privation or loss; extinction; cessation; as, the death of memory.

The death of a language can not be exactly compared with the death of a plant. J. Peile.


Manner of dying; act or state of passing from life.

A death that I abhor. Shak.

Let me die the death of the righteous. Num. xxiii. 10.


Cause of loss of life.

Swiftly flies the feathered death. Dryden.

He caught his death the last county sessions. Addison.


Personified: The destroyer of life, -- conventionally represented as a skeleton with a scythe.

Death! great proprietor of all. Young.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse; and his name that at on him was Death. Rev. vi. 8.


Danger of death.

"In deaths oft."

2 Cor. xi. 23.


Murder; murderous character.

Not to suffer a man of death to live. Bacon.

8. Theol.

Loss of spiritual life.

To be m is death. Rom. viii. 6.


Anything so dreadful as to be like death.

It was death to them to think of entertaining such doctrines. Atterbury.

And urged him, so that his soul was vexed unto death. Judg. xvi. 16.

Death is much used adjectively and as the first part of a compound, meaning, in general, of or pertaining to death, causing or presaging death; as, deathbed or death bed; deathblow or death blow, etc.

Black death. See Black death, in the Vocabulary. -- Civil death, the separation of a man from civil society, or the debarring him from the enjoyment of civil rights, as by banishment, attainder, abjuration of the realm, entering a monastery, etc. Blackstone. -- Death adder. Zool. (a) A kind of viper found in South Africa (Acanthophis tortor); -- so called from the virulence of its venom. (b) A venomous Australian snake of the family Elapidae, of several species, as the Hoplocephalus superbus and Acanthopis antarctica. -- Death bell, a bell that announces a death.

The death bell thrice was heard to ring. Mickle.

-- Death candle, a light like that of a candle, viewed by the superstitious as presaging death. -- Death damp, a cold sweat at the coming on of death. -- Death fire, a kind of ignis fatuus supposed to forebode death.

And round about in reel and rout, The death fires danced at night. Coleridge.

-- Death grapple, a grapple or struggle for life. -- Death in life, a condition but little removed from death; a living death. [Poetic] "Lay lingering out a five years' death in life." Tennyson. -- Death knell, a stroke or tolling of a bell, announcing a death. -- Death rate, the relation or ratio of the number of deaths to the population.

At all ages the death rate is higher in towns than in rural districts. Darwin.

-- Death rattle, a rattling or gurgling in the throat of a dying person. -- Death's door, the boundary of life; the partition dividing life from death. -- Death stroke, a stroke causing death. -- Death throe, the spasm of death. -- Death token, the signal of approaching death. -- Death warrant. (a) Law An order from the proper authority for the execution of a criminal. (b) That which puts an end to expectation, hope, or joy. -- Death wound. (a) A fatal wound or injury. (b) Naut. The springing of a fatal leak. -- Spiritual death Scripture, the corruption and perversion of the soul by sin, with the loss of the favor of God. -- The gates of death, the grave.

Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? Job xxxviii. 17.

-- The second death, condemnation to eternal separation from God. Rev. ii. 11. -- To be the death of, to be the cause of death to; to make die. "It was one who should be the death of both his parents." Milton.

Syn. -- Death, Decrase, Departure, Release. Death applies to the termination of every form of existence, both animal and vegetable; the other words only to the human race. Decease is the term used in law for the removal of a human being out of life in the ordinary course of nature. Demise was formerly confined to decease of princes, but is now sometimes used of distinguished men in general; as, the demise of Mr. Pitt. Departure and release are peculiarly terms of Christian affection and hope. A violent death is not usually called a decease. Departure implies a friendly taking leave of life. Release implies a deliverance from a life of suffering or sorrow.


© Webster 1913.

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