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20 Famous Writers on Death and Mortality

Today marks the publication of Mortality, confrontational journalist Christopher Hitchens’ posthumous work about his experiences with the cancer that killed him. We’ve lost a lot of great minds recently — Nora Ephron, Maurice Sendak, David Rakoff, and Hitch himself — and we think this end-of-life memoir in essays, full of Hitchens’ trademark wit and his clear-eyed dissection of life as he sees it, may just heal us a little bit, as books tend to do. To celebrate the book’s publication, and to help recalibrate our own perspectives on the loss of so many of our intellectual heroes, we’ve put together this selection of passages on death and mortality from a few of our favorite authors. Read through after the jump, and since there are an infinite number of these, add your own favorite to our collection in the comments.

“Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” – Christopher Hitchens, The Portable Atheist

“People living deeply have no fear of death.” – Anaïs Nin, The Diary Of Anaïs Nin, Volume Two

“Life was not a valuable gift, but death was. Life was a fever-dream made up of joys embittered by sorrows, pleasure poisoned by pain; a dream that was a nightmare-confusion of spasmodic and fleeting delights, ecstasies, exultations, happinesses, interspersed with long-drawn miseries, griefs, perils, horrors, disappointments, defeats, humiliations, and despairs — the heaviest curse devisable by divine ingenuity; but death was sweet, death was gentle, death was kind; death healed the bruised spirit and the broken heart, and gave them rest and forgetfulness; death was man’s best friend; when man could endure life no longer, death came and set him free.” – Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth

“I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind — and that of the minds who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.” – William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying

“Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see.” – Helen Keller

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