40+ Poetic Metaphors for Death and Dying

Published on:

Talking about death is rarely easy. It can stir up feelings of grief and make people uncomfortable. But discussing death is also inevitable, which is why there are so many metaphors about dying. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Some are funny, while others are sad, poignant, or poetic. And even though death positivity means addressing the subject directly, sometimes couching the topic in a metaphor is a valid option, too. 

If you want to learn the many metaphors for death and dying, the phrases below will get you started. 

Funny Metaphors for Death

Humor is one of the best tools humans have for circumventing discomfort around difficult topics. Sometimes, incorporating movie references or more lighthearted tones can even make you feel more comfortable with the idea of death. 

And if you’re even a casual fan of Monty Python, you’ll know just how many of those metaphors there are. Here are some of the more comical metaphors for death. 

1. Cashed in

If life is a casino, dying is like cashing in your chips. This common idiom referring to death lends a positive light to a loved one’s departure. After all, cashing in your chips means you’re leaving that much richer for it. 

2. Kicked the bucket

This popular metaphor might sound humorous and lighthearted, and it’s often used in that way. But according to many etymologists, it could have much darker roots. Scholars still can’t agree, though, where exactly the term came from. 

3. Assumed room temperature

“Assuming room temperature” is an idiom that refers to the body’s cooling-down process after death. 

4. Popped one’s clogs

This one might be new to you if you’re unfamiliar with British idioms. To “pop” something is to pawn or sell it off. And you don’t need clogs (or shoes, for us modern folks) in death. 

5. Fallen off the perch

Falling off one’s perch is an English idiom that references a bird’s perch. 

6. Taking a dirt nap

Taking a “dirt nap” is both a humorous euphemism for death, as well as one that puts death in a more positive light. Rather than permanently resting underground, you’re only taking a “nap”..”

7. Sleeping with the fishes

This popular idiom became famous because of hits like The Godfather. And although “sleeping with the fishes” generally refers to an untimely passing, it can be used for any death. 

8. Pushing daisies

Pushing up daisies is another common metaphor with humorous undertones. It refers to one having been buried, with daisy flowers growing over the top of their grave. 

9. Six feet under

Six feet is the standard depth of a grave in most countries. And while the term itself isn’t exactly humorous, people often use “six feet under” as a lighthearted euphemism for death. 

10. Counting worms

Another idiom that references one’s final resting place underground, “counting worms” is a less common metaphor for death. “Worms” are a popular recurring theme when it comes to euphemisms about death. 

ยป MORE: Guide your loved one through a difficult loss one step at a time. Here's your complete checklist.

 

Sad Metaphors for Death

While some metaphors for death are funny and lighthearted, others are sad and reflect the grief of death. Here are some of the metaphors that best convey the melancholy of death and dying. 

11. Breathe one’s last

When one dies, they inevitably breathe their last breath. For their loved ones, the thought of this last breath is heart-wrenching and leaves a lasting impression in itself. 

12. Not with us anymore

The pain of losing someone we love comes, in large part, from not having that person with us anymore. This apt metaphor refers to the pain of loss. 

13. Given up the ghost

When a person dies, they can be seen as “giving up the ghost” or releasing their soul. The phrase, “give up the ghost” may trace all the way back to the King James Bible, first printed in the early 1600s. 

14. Gone west

When the sun sets, it goes west. Similarly, when someone we love dies, we might see them as disappearing like a setting sun. 

15. Didn’t make it 

“Didn’t make it” is a common euphemism used when it comes to accidental deaths and deaths due to illness. 

16. Slipped away

Another metaphor that family members often use when they inform one another about a loved one’s death is “slipped away.” 

This softer phrasing can sometimes help both parties ease into the discussion of death. 

17. Resting in peace

We all hope that, when someone we love dies, they’re resting in peace. That’s why this phrase, and its acronym, “R.I.P.,” is so popular. 

At the same time, “rest in peace” evokes a deep sense of loss and sadness. The term originates from the Latin phrase, requiescat in pace, which first appeared on gravestones in the 8th century.

18. Lost

“Losing” someone may be the most common metaphor for death. When someone we love dies, we feel like we’ve “lost” a part of ourselves. 

19. Succumbed

Often, death comes at the end of a long struggle with illness. When someone we love dies after fighting for so long, we might say they finally “succumbed.” The metaphor, “succumbed,” is also used when it comes to sudden or accidental death, as in “succumbed to the cold.” 

20. Born asleep

One of the saddest metaphors for death, “born asleep” provides a tear-jerking euphemism for stillbirth. The term “born asleep” was much more common in the days before modern medicine vastly reduced the rate of infant mortality. 

Metaphors for Death from Poetry

Poets have a knack for describing things in ways that touch our hearts and souls. Death is one of the most common topics touched upon by poets because death is something we all face. Here are some of the most beautiful metaphors for death provided by poets.  

21. Started a worm farm

Poetic metaphors about death don’t have to be serious or sad. E.E. Cummings provides the metaphor, “starting a worm farm,” in his poem, “Nobody Loses All the Time.”

22. Join the great majority 

The poet Edward Young first used this expression in the 1700s, when he stated that “death joins us to the great majority.” But the idea of death as “the majority” has been along much longer than that. 

23. Good night

One of the most well-known poems about death, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas, gives us this metaphor. 

24. Soul’s delivery

John Donne, in his sonnet “Death, Be Not Proud”, described death as, “Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.” 

25. Passed the setting sun

Possibly the most famous poem about death is Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.” In it, Dickinson describes death in multiple metaphorical terms. 

For example, “We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain- We passed the Setting Sun.” 

26. Taking the carriage ride

Another theme from Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death” is the carriage ride. The narrator in this poem rides the carriage—a metaphor for passing from life to the afterlife—passed the setting sun and other landmarks representing the end of life. 

27. Resolved in Earth again

William Cullen Bryant beautifully euphemizes death as “resolved in Earth again” in his famous poem, “Thanatopolis.”

28. Passing the sandbar

Tennyson speaks about death as “crossing the bar” in his poem by the same name. Passing the bar refers to passing the sandbar that separates the raging river of life from the vast ocean of death. 

29. Beneath the elms

Thomas Gray describes death directly as “beneath the elms” in “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.”

30. Crossing the Jordan

The poetic books of the bible are often overlooked in the world of poetry. But when it comes to metaphors about death, “crossing the River Jordan” is an important example. Crossing the Jordan represents reaching the “Promised Land,” which many consider representative of death. 

Metaphors for Death from Shakespeare 

One of the best-known authors of all time, Shakespeare was never at a loss for metaphors about death. Here are just a few of them.

31. Fled

This simple but eloquent metaphor comes from Shakespeare’s No Longer Mourn for Me (Sonnet 71).

32. Rush to the secret house

To “rush to the secret house” is a metaphor for death that Shakespeare employs in Antony & Cleopatra.

33. Gloomy shade

This darker-toned euphemism for death comes from Shakespeare’s King Henry VI, Part I.

34. Untimely frost

Some of the most heartbreaking images of death in Shakespeare’s works, including the death metaphor, “untimely frost,” come from Romeo & Juliet.

35. Sleep 

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we’re somewhat reassured by the comforting metaphor for death as sleep when he writes, “for in that sleep of death…”

36. Fadeth in the West

“As after Sunset fadeth in the West...” is a metaphor for death that comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

37. The season of Fall

Another euphemism for death comes from Macbeth when Shakespeare describes the end of life as “the season of Fall.” 

38. Undiscovered country

In Hamlet, Shakespeare aptly depicts death as an “undiscovered country.” 

39. Twilight of day

Just as he describes death as “the season of Fall” and the “Sunset fadeth in the West,” Shakespeare describes death as the “Twilight of day” in his Sonnet 73.

40. Fearful owl

Perhaps the most unique metaphor for death that we get from Shakespeare is his depiction of death as a “fearful owl” in King Henry VI, Part I.

How to Talk About Death

Metaphors for death can help us think about death, plan for death, and process the deaths of our loved ones. 

But it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes the most healing way to discuss death is directly. Words like “death,” “dead,” and “dying” often help loved ones find closure in the finality of death. 


Sources 

  1. “Give up the ghost idiom definition.” Grammarist. grammarist.com/idiom/give-up-the-ghost
  2. “Join the great majority.” Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. 2015. idioms.thefreedictionary.com/join+the+great+majority
  3. Thomas, Dylan. “Do not go gentle into that good night.” Poets.org. poets.org/poem/do-not-go-gentle-good-night
  4. Dickinson, Emily. “Because I could not stop for death.” Poetry Foundation. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47652/because-i-could-not-stop-for-death-479
  5. Bryant, William Cullen. “Thanatopsis.” Poetry Foundation. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50465/thanatopsis
  6. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. “Crossing the bar.” Poetry Foundation. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45321/crossing-the-bar
  7. Gray, Thomas. “Elegy written in a country churchyard.” Poetry Foundation. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44299/elegy-written-in-a-country-churchyard
  8. Shakespeare, William. “The Complete Works of Shakespeare.” The Tech, MIT. shakespeare.mit.edu/

Icons sourced from FlatIcon.