Knowing death to the bone

A poem by W.B.Yeats

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
Super-session of breath;
He knows death to the bone –
Man has created death.

A short poem by Yeats , it has some interesting thoughts. First , a contrast between a man’s attitude towards death and an animal’s .Dying is an organic process that does not affect the animal’s life beyond the physical. There is nothing before and leading to the culmination of the process.A man knows he is going to die some time and actively participates in the events leading to the organic event of death. Death is an experience that begins the moment one becomes aware of the world and sees other people dying. It signals the beginning of human logic by which a thing that has a beginning has to end sometime.

The great man Yeats is referring to knows death to the bone.So does each one of us. He casts derision on super-session of breath. Each one of us pretends to care little about when death happens to us . But because all of us have death in our bones, as program writ in our bodies and this we know to the bone. An animal is hardly aware of death as a possibility of happening to it. So it does not participate in the process of death.

So when the poet says man has created death he may possibly be meaning that death is not simply the final event to a living being but living through an awareness of death as a certainty and the possibility of its happening any time. It is not the death that is scary but the fear that it can happen any time, from anywhere.

Linked to the awareness of death as a logical possibility flowing from the fact of birth, there is the concept of time. An animal has no awareness of Time’s passage, the inevitable ticking of the clock from the origin of a life to its end .A human always experiences the clock ticking all about him ,in sleep and wakefulness. He experiences death all around him , the dissolution of living and non-living matter as an inescapable reality.

He knows death to the bone-
Man has created death.

Yeats is referring to the indifference of his friend O’Higgins who was  to be assassinated for his actions leading to the executions of IRA members. He knows death to the bone-in the sense he too played a part in the deaths of others and it was only inevitable for him to face death himself. Man has created death when he sees its inevitability as a logical outcome of the fact of his birth and his subsequent actions . Unlike an animal which dies without ever realizing there is such a thing as death.