Death and Life is a dream debate poem, the only remaining copy is found in the 17th century Percy Folio[1]. Although the author and time which it was written is unknown, it has an alliterative style places it in the late 14th century. It possibly comes from either north Midland with Northern influence, or Midland[2]. It is composed of 458 alliterative long lines. It is written in chanson d'aventure, in which a chanson is used a French term for the art song of the Middle Ages and Renaissance[3]. Death and Life compares with Piers Plowman, The Parlement of the Thre Ages, and Winnere and Wastoure for its alliterative style, and Piers Plowman for the subject matter of the Harrowing of Hell. The debate is between the conflicting characters Lady Life and Dame Death, where Lady Life ultimately wins because of immortality which follows death as exemplified through Christ.

Plot Summary

The poem opens in a springtime scene where the narrator flows from a waking state to sleep, where he dreams of Lady Life. Through this deathlike state of sleeping, the narrator experiences the Paradox of Christianity, which is immortal life being released from death. In this dream, Dame Death thinks herself victorious for the Crucifixion. She boasts of her superior might over Lady Life, and defends the utility in her abilities[4]. Dame Death foils herself when spearing Christ, since it releases Lady Life from his heart and retells the story of the Harrowing of Hell. Christ is resurrected and he, with Lady Life, send Dame Death to hell's hole while also releasing the Old Testament Saints.

Themes and Style

Imagery is used to personify the scene in which Lady Life becomes present in the narrator's dream. There is also the use of puns, allegory (Harrowing of Hell), subtle modulations of tone of voice to show linguistic sophistication[5]. The poem is a debate poem in which it evaluates whether or not Life is more powerful than Death. The sleep cycle, where waking is followed by sleep then reawaking, is parallel to the cycle of human life in which living leads to dying which is followed by immortal life. Also, prayers which invoke the image of Crucified Christ surround the beginning and end of the poem.


1 Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. Paul E. Szarmach, M. Teresa Tavormina, Joel T. Rosenthal. New York: Garland Pub., 1998.

2 Manual of the Writings in Middle English 1050-1500. Modern Language Association of America. New Haven, Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences 1967-1993.

3 Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. Matthew E. Bunson. New York, NY : Facts on File, c1995.


You need to be careful of the grammatical errors, particularly in the first section. While your topic is interesting, the errors make it a bit hard to follow at times. Good use of external links. Letter Grade: B+

The explanation is clear. You took a topic that could be very hard to decipher and made it very understandable. There are a few grammatical errors, but nothing too distracting. B.

Interesting Topic. I agree that the grammatical errors in the first section detract from the reading experience, however that seems to be the only section that has that problem. Letter Grade: B

Watch for grammatical errors in the beginning. Maybe give examples of the puns etc..? A-

Watch grammatical errors. Also, some of the explanation is a bit esoteric and academically inclusive, which is really not the point of a wikipedia article. Interesting topic, clear plot summary and imagery sections. A little short; could be fleshed out a bit more. Letter grade: B+

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