The Great Poem Series: Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s “The Afterlife”

Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s, “The Afterlife”, is one of her many works which has received national attention. The writing is a piece of contemporary poetry and is featured in the 2012 edition of “The Best American Poetry”. Schwartz has received numerous awards including grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Foundation for the Arts. The particular poem which I will focus on, “The Afterlife”, portrays the message that life after death is not always as reassuring as some may think. Schwartz wants readers to connect the idea of relationships and death, as death is a cold natured part of life and can result in the loss of relationships.

The main attribute to Schwartz’s poem is the motherly nature to it. I like how she tries to connect to readers through mothers, and amplifies that when she brings up dead mothers. Most people have strong feelings for their moms and this is shown early on in the poem: “Who should I search for? The answer came quick: my mother” (Schwartz, 134). Not only does she connect to mother’s on a personal basis, but she then seems to break the reader’s heart. I even felt a bit of remorse when she says, “Mothers, she said, fathers, families, lovers are for the place you came from” (Schwartz, 134). I think that Schwartz is trying to send the message to myself and readers alike that there is no reconnecting with known people once you have entered The Afterlife. Death is something that not only ends a life, but is something that ends every possible thing about one’s life. And I believe that schwartz was made aware of this harsh reality in her dream and felt that she had to get the point across to other people through her poem. She ends her mother’s speech with the most real and heartfelt quote of the poem: “This is what death means, my child, this is how we pass eternity, looking for the love we no longer know how to give” (Schwartz, 134). Schwartz further expands upon her message of the reality of death and The Afterlife.

Schwartz not only described The Afterlife as emotionally horrible, but she also visually described it in a unique way. As talked about before, I came across the message that The Afterlife is no fun place. After many reads of the poem, I realized that Schwartz was also describing The Afterlife in an ill manner. She described it as “Crowded, hordes of people, everyone seeking someone, staggering every which way” (Schwartz, 134). In my eyes it seems as if she is describing people who come across as zombies. Zombies, in all tv shows and movies, roam the earth with no motive and do so for eternity. I think that Schwartz wants readers to see the potential similarities of the two, making readers fear The Afterlife and the possible threat of becoming a zombie. She wants readers to know that there will be no reconnecting with fallen family, only the thought of them, and continous searching. There should be no hope for arriving in The Afterlife and Schwartz effectively uses zombies as a way to scare the readers.

Schwartz set this poem up to be interpreted in a variety of ways. She did so by setting the poem up in a dream. Dreams are fantasies and are for the most part hard to remember. The dream state offers a sense of suspicion and mystery and is an intriguing aspect of the poem. Just like poetry, dreams are able to be interpreted in multiple ways, which makes it very interesting how Schwartz connected the two. The last line of the poem seems to cap it off by adding a bit of complexity to it: “I shuddered myself awake. And yet-my child, she said, my child. Or did I only dream that word, dream within a dream? (Schwartz, 135). She complicates the dream aspect of the poem in this last line and I think she does so to try and bring the reader back to reality. The wants readers to know that the end of the poem is the end of the dream as well.

“The Afterlife”, is based on a real dream that Schwartz had about a year prior to the publication of the poem. In this dream Schwartz talks about how she was surprised on what she saw in the afterlife and was confused on certain aspects of the dream. She was not aware if she was actually dead or if she was just paying a visit. She was also amazed by her mother’s reaction when she finally found her in The Afterlife. This poem, unlike others, is not confusing and portrays a clear and profound message. It also offers a sense of imagination and amusement as life in The Afterlife was not what the author thought it would be. The idea of death is a serious matter, but is also an interesting one, and for readers who want to read about an extremely interesting view on life after death, this is the poem for you.

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