“The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our separate ways, I to die, and you to live. Which of these two is better only God knows.” ~Socrates
“I don’t think you should die until you’re ready. Until you’ve wrung out every last bit of living you can.” ~Libba Bray, Going Bovine
Literary people think, read and write. Others do this too. And just like everyone else, they’re born and they die. However, some of them die in very peculiar ways. You might not even know, and your favourite poet or author might be on this list. So read on and find out! I was especially shocked to read of Shelley and Plath. Here I shall be presenting introductions of the writers, their death story, and an excerpt from their works which particularly appeal to me.
1. Ernest Hemingway:
Hemingway is known for his economical style of writing. He wasted no words and made every line count. So much so that there is now an app called the Hemingway app, which points out areas of a piece of writing which need to be edited for Hemingway reasons. The author is especially renowned for For Whom The Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, and The Old Man and the Sea.
He died in 1961, shot himself in the head because he decided he had had enough of life. He had seen and fought in several wars, survived plane crashes and suffered from chronic pains and depression, treatment of which severely affected his ability to write and cause memory loss. You will notice that most writers have suffered from depression. But it is often surprising to hear so of such great figures.
“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
“There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you never will get, you will have a good life. A good life is not measured by any biblical span.”
― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
2. Mark Twain:
Would you believe it, the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has made it to the list! Samuel Langhorne Clemens was his real name. He saw everything in his childhood, merriment, violence, death. Many of his novels take ideas from his childhood hometown.
Although he did have a disturbed life, especially the last few years, that is not what shapes the curious nature of his death.His quote says it all:
“I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”
He predicted his own death. And sure enough, he died a day after the comet was at its closest proximity to our planet.
They found plenty of things to be delighted with, but nothing to be astonished at. They discovered that the island was about three miles long and a quarter of a mile wide, and that the shore it lay closest to was only separated from it by a narrow channel hardly two hundred yards wide. They took a swim about every hour, so it was close upon the middle of the afternoon when they got back to camp. They were too hungry to stop to fish, but they fared sumptuously upon cold ham, and then threw themselves down in the shade to talk. But the talk soon began to drag, and then died. The stillness, the solemnity that brooded in the woods, and the sense of loneliness, began to tell upon the spirits of the boys. They fell to thinking. A sort of undefined longing crept upon them. This took dim shape, presently – it was budding homesickness. Even Finn the Red-Handed was dreaming of his doorsteps and empty hogsheads. But they were all ashamed of their weakness, and none was brave enough to speak his thought.
― Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
3. Sylvia Plath:
Everyone with the slightest connection to poetry has heard of Plath. She’s best known for her poetry collection The Bell Jar. She was married to another famous poet Ted Hughes. She suffered from depression constantly and attempted suicide once before she finally succeeded.
Sylvia Plath committed suicide on February 11, 1963. She put her kids to sleep in a room, lighted the oven in the kitchen, plugged the door, left a note to her neighbour to fetch a doctor. And stuck her head in the oven. She was found dead in the same position.
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
When in good humour,
Give grass its green
Blazon sky blue, and endow the sun
Yet, in my wintriest moods, I hold
To boycott color and forbid any flower
―Sylvia Plath, Soliloquy of the Solipsist
4. Lucy Maude Montgomery:
One of my favourite authors, L. M. Montgomery is the writer of the well-loved Emily series and Anne series as well as several other novels. It is reported that she published 20 novels, over 500 short stories, an autobiography, and a book of poetry along with a few journals in her lifetime.
On April 24th of 1924, the beloved author died of coronary thrombosis, as reported back then. Later on, her granddaughter revealed that Montgomery had been suffering from depression, and committed suicide. She had left a note on her bedside table which read partly as follows:
“I have lost my mind by spells and I do not dare think what I may do in those spells. May God forgive me and I hope everyone else will forgive me even if they cannot understand. My position is too awful to endure and nobody realizes it. What an end to a life in which I tried always to do my best.”
That said, it would be wrong to assume a suicide, as it is wrong to assume always. Above note is not necessarily a suicide note, it could merely be a journal entry.
With you I shall ever be,
Over land and sea
My thoughts will companion you;
With yours shall my laughter chime,
And my step keep time
In the dusk and dew
― L.M. Montgomery, Forever in The Watchman and Other
Poems”Oh, there’s so much scope for imagination in a wind! So I’ll not talk any more just now, Marilla.” “Thanks be to goodness for that,” breathed Marilla in devout relief.
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
5. Li Bai:
Ever heard of a poet whose poetic nature killed him? Meet Li Bai. A poet of the Tang Dynasty, he revolutionized traditional poetry of his time. Over a thousand of his poems are still known, collected into several anthologies. He was a romantic poet and received much acclamation in his life and more afterwards. Being a romantic, his poetry focused on nature and its beauty, the ordinary made extraordinary. This was, it can be said, the cause of his death.
Widely believed legend has it that the poet was on a ship to Anhui for a new post given to him by the emperor, but died before reaching his destination while trying to embrace the reflection of the moon in the water. It seems he might have gotten too close. Perhaps he later regretted it, but we never know with these Romantic poets.
You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows downstream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.
―Li Bai, Green Mountain (Translation)
6. Virginia Woolf:
Virginia Woolf is known today for her unique writing style now known as stream-of-consciousness. She portrayed her characters’ thinking processes through her words, and became very famous for breaking out of the normative confines of writing. Woolf went through several tragedies in her lifetime; sexual abuse, her mother’s death, and her sister’s death soon after. All of this gave her severe bouts of depression and dramatic mood swings. One thing about her life which gave me joy was that she married Leonard Woolf after they both fell in love and remained so for the rest of their lives. She is known for her books To the lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and A room of one’s own.
Her life however was far from a fairytale. She first attempted suicide at 22 in 1904, way before she had met Leonard. On March 28, 1941, after writing her novel Between the acts, Woolf walked out of her home one night, wearing an overcoat with its pocket full of stones to weigh her down, and into the River Ouse. The stream took her with it and she was found some three weeks later.
“Let us again pretend that life is a solid substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers. Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story, so that when one matter is despatched—love for instance—we go on, in an orderly manner, to the next. ”
― Virginia Woolf, The Waves
“About here, she thought, dabbling her fingers in the water, a ship had sunk, and she muttered, dreamily half asleep, how we perished, each alone.”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
7. Edgar Allan Poe:
Poe was a mystery, wrote mysteries, and died mysteriously. He was a poet, short-story writer, critic, and an editor. His best works include the poem The Raven, and a short-story collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. He also wrote essays on writing. His life was not a comfortable one, he never knew his parents, didn’t get along with his foster parents, didn’t get far at school, and didn’t have much luck in love. He struggled in every way, often because of his own style and personality.
On October 3, 1849, Poe was found in streets of Baltimore, supposedly on his way to Philadelphia. He wore someone else’s clothes, and was only partially conscious. He was then taken to a hospital where he died on October 7th. His last words were “Lord, help my poor soul.” Nobody Really knows anything of what happened to him. Poe himself knows, hopefully. Some say he was drunk. Some say he was drugged. Some say he suffered from a mental illness. Some say he was victim of cooping. Nobody knows. He left us a mystery even in his death.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.
― Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven
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