For eons a stigma has been placed over death, cloaking it in a shroud of pain, tragedy and taboo. For many, death represents doom while others view passing on as a welcomed changed, a new start and a chance to reunite with already deceased loved ones. Blue Oyster Cult’s popular song, (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, exhibits an optimistic attitude towards humankind’s transition from this life to the next. Through the use of allusion and imagery, the lyrics illustrate that even though dying is inevitable and unavoidable, death should not be dreaded.
As expected, the lyricist portrays death by using the character of the grim reaper. Stereotypically presented as the silent, no-nonsense agent of death, the reaper defies popular opinion, “Baby take my hand . . . we’ll be able to fly . . . Baby I’m your man. ” Here, he comes across as an understanding and soothing entity while trying to comfort a distressed woman who is thought to have lost her lover. By uttering the words, the reaper softens his approach, adding a sympathetic, almost human, quality to his reputation.
He calls the woman “baby,” as a mother would call a child “sweetheart,” and refers to death in a positive manner. In doing so, he attempts to lessen her fear for her looming departure. Playing on her obvious grief over a loved one, the reaper alludes to Shakespeare’s most tragic couple, “Romeo and Juliet / Are together in eternity. . . .” At the mention of the two star-crossed lovers, he appeals to the woman’s broken heart, declaring that once she dies she will be reunited with her lost love for all time. Just like Romeo and Juliet, she will be happy and cherished in the next life.
This further supports the message that death is not the loathed existence that many perceive. The mention of the seasons and natural occurrences, “Seasons don’t fear the reaper / Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain . . . ” bolsters the reaper’s argument of not being afraid of passing on. By presenting these examples, he explains that death touches everything. Just as the human lifespan exists for limited spurts, all of nature, at one time or another, expires. Where many individuals fight their inescapable demise, nature and all its facets accept the end without qualm or struggle.
Seasons change. Wind and rain ebb. The sun sets. All will eventually return, bringing new life and hope. On that same token, he further demonstrates his point in mentioning: “40,000 men and women everyday . . . / Another 40,000 coming everyday . . . We can be like they are. ” While many die each day, just as many are born into the world, repopulating the earth and taking someone’s place. He infers that, like nature, human life mimics a cycle, possibly implying that the woman will eventually be reborn and live again. Once more, the reaper presents death with an optimistic twist.
In conclusion, due to the unusual portrayal of the reaper as a sympathetic shepherding figure, the mentioning of Romeo and Juliet, and the comparison of life and death to natural elements and an equal ratio, the band successfully eases the unwarranted fears over death and the next life. The reapers comforts and explains that in death one will reunite with deceased loved ones. He further clarifies that even though a life ends, an individual will be replaced by a new soul on earth- and eventually could be reborn- continuing the never ending cycle of the life and death partnership.
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