In the poem “The Demon Goes To Kill Death” by Edwin Morgan the title conveys the theme of the demon stalking with the intent to kill off death. The tone of the poem indicates the futility of the quest. The killing of death is impossible because death will just be replaced by the “death of death!” and that gives the reader an interesting concept to think about. The killing of death personifies it and represents death as a being that could be killed.
The first line of the stanza one starts
“The only way, the only way is all.”
This line introduces us to the theme that the demon is prepared to go all the way in his determination to kill death. The demon might have said that to be psyching himself up before his battle, preparing himself for the quest.
The Demon goes to a graveyard in search of death
“I tried the grave for size” shows the reader his sick humour, trying someone else’s grave to see if it would fit him. Even though this demon is presumed to be immortal and would never end up in a grave.
Edwin Morgan then gives a very detailed and descriptive account of this grave
“Wood-pulp, gravel, grubs, teeth”
“Seeds dormant and seeds dead”
“A trail of nameless black mephitic slurries”
These descriptive lines are full of imagery conveying the unpleasantness of how dark and creepy the graveyard is. He finishes the stanza by saying
“But the one I was looking for was not there.”
This leads us onto the next stanza when the Demon then goes to a couple of battlefields in search of death. We know this is in modern times because Morgan uses some descriptive sentences
“The sand was fused to glass”
“Oil burned screaming along the waves”
Only technologically advanced weapons now have enough heat energy to fuse sand to glass and the only man made things that would be screaming personification along waves with oil in a war would be battleships and submarines.
“shellers crowed to heaven”
I think that this either portrays a holy war or that the people that were firing the gun were so happy and excited that they had hit the “shelled villages” and killed the people there, they gave thanks to their God.
Morgan finished this stanza with
“Yet the one I was looking for was not there.” Again there is a sense of expectancy as to when the demon will catch up with his quarry, enticing us to read the next stanza.
Here the Demon went to a hospital in search of death.
“I walked among the longest of wards”
But Death wasn’t there either
“Stubbly doctors dropped asleep”
“By empty cupboard doors that swung and creaked”
The imagery here conveys very clearly that the doctors where tired
and overworked so much that they didn’t even have the time to have a shave, the cupboards in the hospital are described as being empty with no medicine and that is pretty poor for a hospital. Everything is pushed to its limits; staff, resources and supplies are strained. Once again this stanza ends with
“Still the one I was looking for was not there” Morgan repeats the reminder of the demon’s quest.
This stanza starts “she was dead white” referring to Death as not only a being but as a woman – not like the Grim Reaper that has been death personified for centuries.
“slipping with bundles from country to no country”
These lines tell us that the demon is tracking refugees that were either thrown out of their homes by other men or they decided that due to local conditions their lives were so difficult and endangered that they would be better off travelling in search of a new home.
“Old women were silent, with bleeding feet”
This conveys that the refugees have been travelling for a long time and that bleeding feet aren’t that important any more, there used to it. The repetition continues with
“But she I was looking for was not there.” Is the demon’s quest futile?
This final stanza starts as if the demon is psyching himself up
“I can take blizzards, I can take stench.”
“I will never rest till I have found her.”
It is at this point that I wondered why is he so eager and enraged by death, why does he want to kill her so much, why is it so important to him?
“She is so ghastly only a demon would dare to grapple her and bring her down.”
“But bring her down I will, at the end of time or sooner.”
This gives me an image of an endless crusade; maybe the apocalypse will be this final battle. But maybe not? Maybe the demon is destined to track death eternally with endless hope, maybe this is his hell?
“O is she there?”
These last words in the final stanza carry on this repetition at the end of every stanza. This also keeps us wondering if the demon has actually found “her” or has he thought of another place to try and find death.
Maybe the demon’s quest won’t actually end in death being “found” as with the muffled refugees, on the battlefields, in the hospital these are all examples of death caused by man – a man made death, no being is responsible, only other people. People that are excited by killing others, leaving people to die in beds because cures are to expensive, throwing people out of there homes – there may be no “death” only man. Is this why Morgan ends each stanza with the futility of a never-ending search?