Against Dying

By Kaveh Akbar


📚 Against Dying by Kaveh Akbar is a compelling poem that delves into the themes of life, mortality, and the human spirit’s unyielding resistance to the end. Kaveh Akbar, renowned for his intricate and emotionally charged poetry, crafts this piece with a keen awareness of the fragility and resilience of life. Belonging to the genre of modern poetry, Akbar’s work is celebrated for its profound depth and innovative use of language. In “Against Dying,” he explores the existential conflicts between the will to live and the inevitability of death, making it a significant piece for readers and scholars alike. 😌✨

Meaning of Against Dying

Opening Section In the opening lines of “Against Dying,” Kaveh Akbar sets the stage for a profound discourse on life’s persistence against the backdrop of inevitable death. The poem begins with a stark, yet hopeful declaration of life’s tenacity:

“If the soul left the body at a slower rate,
we might see a man walking whole for days
after his death…”

This imagery suggests a lingering spirit, emphasizing the human desire to cling to life even as it fades, suggesting both a denial of and a challenge to mortality.

Mid Section As the poem progresses to the middle section, Akbar introduces more intimate reflections on personal and collective experiences with mortality:

“I have been so dangerously close to dying,
feeling its breath on the nape of my neck,
but still I speak in the language of living…”

These lines reflect a personal confrontation with death, highlighting a resilient spirit that continues to “speak in the language of living” despite the proximity of death. This juxtaposition serves to underline the poem’s central theme of battling against the cessation of existence.

Concluding Section The concluding section of “Against Dying” brings a sense of resolution and defiance, as the poet reaffirms the human capacity to resist the end:

“We keep finding new ways to live,
despite the shadows, despite the pain,
we persist, we flourish…”

Here, Akbar captures a triumphant tone, acknowledging the pain and shadows of life yet celebrating the persistent, flourishing nature of the human spirit.

In-depth Analysis

Stanza 1 — Opening Lines

  • Literary Techniques: The use of vivid imagery (“soul left the body at a slower rate”) and personification (“man walking whole for days after his death”) immediately captures the reader’s attention, setting a tone of both wonder and eeriness.
  • Syntax and Diction: The choice of words like “slower,” “whole,” and “days after his death” emphasizes a gradual and almost reluctant departure from life, enhancing the theme of clinging to existence.

Stanza 2 — Reflection on Personal Experience

  • Figurative Language: Metaphors like “feeling its breath on the nape of my neck” personify death as a close, stalking presence, enhancing the intensity of the personal struggle against it.
  • Diction: The contrast between “dangerously close to dying” and “language of living” highlights the dichotomy between death and life, underscoring the poem’s exploration of survival and defiance.

Stanza 3 — Concluding Affirmation

  • Symbolism: The “shadows” and “pain” symbolize the inevitable challenges and sufferings in life, while “new ways to live” suggests innovation and adaptation in the face of these challenges.
  • Techniques: The repetition of “we” in “we persist, we flourish” fosters a collective strength, uniting the speaker with the audience in a shared human experience.

Poetic Devices used in Against Dying

Here’s a table showcasing the top 10 poetic devices used in “Against Dying” by Kaveh Akbar:

Device NameExample from PoemExplanation
Metaphor“feeling its breath on the nape of my neck”Comparing death’s proximity to a breath, suggesting its closeness and inevitability without using “like” or “as.”
Imagery“a man walking whole for days after his death”Creates a visual that is vivid and somewhat unsettling, enhancing the theme of clinging to life.
Personification“death…feeling its breath”Giving human qualities to death, making it more menacing and real.
Symbolism“shadows,” “pain”Represents the trials and tribulations of life.
Repetition“we persist, we flourish”Emphasizes collective human resilience and triumph.
Alliteration“dangerously close to dying”The repetition of ‘d’ sounds enhances the poetic rhythm and focus on the proximity of death.
Anaphora“we keep finding new ways to live, we persist, we flourish”The repetition of “we” at the beginning of phrases builds a rhythm and emphasizes unity and collective strength.
Juxtaposition“language of living” vs. “close to dying”Placing opposites close together to highlight the contrast between life and death.
Hyperbole“man walking whole for days after his death”Exaggerates to emphasize the unnatural prolongation of life beyond death.
Paradox“speak in the language of living” when close to deathContradictory ideas coexist, enhancing the complexity of the human will to live despite the inevitability of death.

This table encapsulates how Akbar utilizes a rich tapestry of poetic devices to deepen the thematic essence of “Against Dying,” making it a resonant piece about the human condition.

Against Dying – FAQs

What is the main theme of ‘Against Dying’ by Kaveh Akbar?

  • Answer: The main theme of “Against Dying” is the human spirit’s resilience and struggle against the inevitability of death. The poem explores how individuals confront and cope with the prospect of mortality, emphasizing a collective will to find meaning and continue living despite life’s challenges.

How does Kaveh Akbar use imagery in ‘Against Dying’?

  • Answer: Kaveh Akbar employs vivid imagery to evoke emotions and create visual representations of life and death. For example, he describes a hypothetical scenario where a soul departs the body slowly, allowing a man to appear alive even days after death. This striking image highlights the poem’s exploration of the boundaries between life and death.

What poetic devices are prominent in ‘Against Dying’?

  • Answer: Akbar uses a variety of poetic devices in “Against Dying,” including metaphor, personification, repetition, and imagery. These devices work together to enhance the poem’s emotional depth and underscore its themes of persistence and defiance against mortality.

Can you explain the use of personification in the poem?

  • Answer: In “Against Dying,” death is personified, most notably through the phrase “feeling its breath on the nape of my neck.” This personification makes death appear as a tangible and close presence, intensifying the emotional weight of the poet’s reflections on mortality.

What is the significance of the poem’s structure in conveying its message?

  • Answer: The structure of “Against Dying” is pivotal in building the poem’s thematic and emotional arc. Through a concise and impactful format, Akbar effectively layers his exploration of life’s tenacity against death, gradually moving from a theoretical contemplation to personal reflections and concluding with a collective affirmation of life.

Against Dying Study Guide

Exercise: Identify and list all the poetic devices used in the following verse from “Against Dying” by Kaveh Akbar:

“If the soul left the body at a slower rate,
we might see a man walking whole for days
after his death.”

Instructions: Examine the verse closely and list the poetic devices you can identify. Consider how each device contributes to the theme or emotional impact of the poem.


  1. Metaphor – The entire verse serves as a metaphor for the gradual process of dying and the human desire to extend life beyond its natural end.
  2. Imagery – Creates a vivid image of a man walking after his death, which evokes both the surreal and the tragic.
  3. Hyperbole – The idea of a man walking “whole for days after his death” is an exaggeration that emphasizes the poem’s exploration of life and death boundaries.
  4. Alliteration – Noticeable in the phrase “body at a slower rate,” where the repetition of the ‘b’ sound adds a rhythmic quality to the line.

This exercise is designed to enhance your understanding of how poetic devices are used to deepen the meaning and aesthetic quality of poetry. Keep practicing with different verses to hone your analytical skills in poetry! 📘✍️

That wraps up our extensive guide on Kaveh Akbar’s “Against Dying.” I hope this has been insightful and helpful for your exploration of this profound poem!