This is the latest in a series of essays titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death.”

I read today that roughly 100 billion people have died since the first person was born. For some reason that makes me think of the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Triumph of Death.”

I guess I associate that overwhelming number of people – 100 billion gone! Gone where? – with the overwhelming chaos of death’s triumph in Bruegel’s painting.

Skeleton armies roam the land. Ships sink and cities burn. Skeletons hunt and kill the humans. A dog devours a child. Smoke darkens the sky. Horrible screams – you can’t see them but you know they’re there – fill the air. The bones of the skeletons scrape and click. Maybe most chilling of all: God’s legions are clearly incapable of halting the cruel and indiscriminate carnage.

"The Triumph of Death" by Bruegel the Elder
"The Triumph of Death" by Bruegel the Elder

Sylvia Plath in her poem “Two Views of a Cadaver Room” mentions the Brueghel painting and focuses on two lovers, tucked into a corner of the painting, who seem oblivious to the horrors swirling around them. Plath’s narrator seems to suggest that the couple represents hope that love can triumph over death. 


Me, I tend to think the couple are a couple of fools, and that the skeleton troops are simply saving the best – or worst – for last.


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