The Differences Between Death and Love in Luke Havergal by Edwin Robinson

Luke Havergal by Edwin Robison showcases the use of diction to highlight the key components of the poem. Luke Havergal is about a man being tempted into the western gates of death from the words of a past lover who arrives from the grave. The poem creates a very clear subject through the use of two personas, a seductive woman and a man (Luke Havergal) who is being trapped into committing suicide in the name of love. The audience can feel the tone of death and love in the passage throughout the whole poem.

The diction that Robinson uses creates the theme of contrast between death and love in the passage.

The diction Robinson uses in Luke Havergal is key to explain the subject, persona and overall meaning of the poem. Robinson uses specific key words to show the idea of death, and uses these words to create a theme and set a storyline for the poem. His word choice is specifically important when he is creating the thought of death for the main persona Luke Havergal, and the journey that he and the reader will be going on.

This can be seen by looking at the first and last lines of each stanza, these lines alone can tell the overall story that Luke Havergal will endure, and the body of each stanza can show why.

Beginning with the first stanza we see “Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,” (17), in which the western gates can represent death during the time period Robinson wrote the poem.

Get quality help now

Proficient in: Edwin Arlington Robinson

4.7 (348)

“ Amazing as always, gave her a week to finish a big assignment and came through way ahead of time. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

This theme of having the western gates represents Luke Havergal’s death or hell are also evident in the beginning and ending lines of stanza two, “No, there is not a dawn in eastern skies” (8,15). This line reiterates that when the main persona will reach where he is going there will be no dawn that will rise again. The use of east and west in the poem creates figurative imagery for the reader, allowing them to associate direction with the ending of Luke Havergals life in the poem.

Robinson uses the first and last lines of the third stanza to continue this theme but now adds the reason of why Luke Havergal may be trying to reach death with the line “Out of a grave I come to tell you this,” (17,23). This line introduces the second persona and the reason of why Luke Havergal is trying to kill himself. This line in particular and throughout the body of the third stanza Robinson provides the reader with some answers they have been seeking for in the poem.

These answers arises the contrast between the theme of love and death that Robinson was attempting to create. This is shown in contrasting lines such as “Out of the grave I come to quench the kiss” (18), and “That blinds you to the way that you must go.” (20). These lines are ironic, showing that the woman persona is using the feeling of love to create death which are polar opposites. In the final stanza you see Luke Havergal reach the western gate with the lines “There is the western gate, Luke Havergal,” (24, 32).

Robinson created this story line at the beginning of each stanza with the use of specific diction and imagery and when put together the lines create “Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal/No there is not a dawn in eastern skies/Out of a grave I come to tell you this/ There is the western gate, Luke Havergal” (1,7,17,24). These connected lines at the beginning of each stanzas create movement through the poem that leads up to the most dramatic moment of Luke Havergal’s death. This technique helps develop the subject of the poem by the specific word choice, location and repetition. This diction is a key element to what makes the reader attracted to the journey of Luke Havergal and highlights the contrasting themes of love and death.

Robinson uses diction to create the contrast between the themes of love and death, and the creation of imagery with specific adjectives. He chooses words that create emotions and thoughts for the audience that help relate to what the poem is about. This is apparent with the theme of fall and the colors that are associated with the passing of this season. In stanza one we can see this being introduced “There where the vines cling crimson on the wall,” (2).

The adjective crimson is defined as “Of a deep red colour somewhat inclining towards purple/ Of or relating to blood” (Oed). This creates an imagery of crimson colored vines clinging to a wall in a cold, dry season where there is a passing of time and things are beginning to die. In this poem the passing of time leads to the death of Luke Havergal, and this line helps the audience feel the connection to the theme of fall through imagery. This connection to fall is important for the poem because it relates that like the leaves that die in fall, Luke Havergal is accepting his death.

The speaker is showing that there is some belief that the two lovers in the poem will be connected in the end, illustrating the contrasting themes of love and death. This belief can be related to the imagery of fall in line thirteen “God slays Himself with every leaf that flies,” (13). Once again connecting the theme of death with imagery of leaves falling through the sky, but now introducing God and religion to the poem. This line shows the reader that God is going to punish Luke Havergal for killing himself by sending him to hell, to be with the woman even if it is for love.

The “she” in the poem is tempting Luke Havergal into meeting her for love through death, but in the end it will only result in them being in hell together. The contrast of love and death is very apparent with the use of the woman persona. She may believe that love can come from death and hell is not a bad place. The poem states “And hell is more than half of paradise” (14), which exemplifies the contradiction between love and death through the differences of these two places. Robinson uses diction to create the imagery of fall and the theme of contradiction of death and love.

Robinson creates diction with the use of the occurring presence of the color red. The consistent pattern of the color red can be related to death, hell, and in the terms of love. Robinson creates two separate emotions with his usage of the color red throughout the poem. This can been seen in “To rift the fiery night that’s in your eyes/No, there is no dawn in eastern skies-” (11,14), where “fiery night” (11) and “not a dawn” (14) create imagery for the audience that shows red as the end of life.

To rift the fiery night in Luke Havergal is creating the image of allowing him to now see hell, and the fire and red that comes with it. When he enters this rift, which is essentially the western gates he will not see a dawn in the eastern skies. This use of adjectives allows for the reader to picture Luke Havergal being tempted into the path of death by the woman. Contrary Robinson uses red to show the love that she is using to create this temptation by using words associated with the emotion. Robinsons uses words like “glow” (18) and “kiss” (19) to associate with the passionate side of this poem, and enabling the theme of love.

The audience can now feel what Luke Havergal might have been feeling. This evidence throughout the poem arises the argument that the theme may be about love, and allows the reader to question what statement the poem is trying to make. Similar to what Luke Havergal was feeling the audience may be torn between the emotions of love and death that are created in the poem.

Throughout the poem Robinson uses diction to show the reader that there is a heavy contrast between death and love in this poem. He is showing the audience why making the persona of Luke Havergal feel such strong feelings of love that he is wiling to kill himself important. It allows for the readers to feel what the characters of the poem are feeling and create thought provoking emotions for the poem and its audience.

The use of diction and what it creates is very important in this poem because it allows the reader to share the emotions of each persona, and assists in telling the story of the two. Through word choice and syntax the audience can see that the persona of Luke Havergal is being tempted into suicide or death by the pressure of love. Phrases such as “Go to the western gate, Luke Havergal,” (1,7,25), and other uses for diction create the subject of death and the journey to hell for the main character.

This phrase is repeated multiple times creating a sense of importance for the journey that Luke Havergal will be going on. Robinson also uses adjectives that create imagery and the subject of death such as “crimson/fiery/dead” (2,10,27), the use of the adjectives assists in creating the imagery of hell and death. In contrast the word choices Robinson uses such as “quench the kiss/glow” (18-19) shows the love that comes from the woman who arises from the grave tempting Luke Havergal into death.

These different uses of diction makes the reader question what Robinsons intentions were and what theme he was trying to follow. The poem creates a storyline that contains contrasting themes that are compelling for a reader, and make them feel emotion for Luke Havergal and the situation that he is in.

Cite this page

The Differences Between Death and Love in Luke Havergal by Edwin Robinson. (2023, May 05). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7