The Old Man and Death


The Old Man and Death, by Joseph Wright of Derby (1774), depicts a poor woodcutter who asked Death to release him from his burdens, as recorded by Aesop. When Death unexpectedly appears, however, he hastily changes his mind.

The dramatic raking light from one side, which increases the viewer's sense of surpise, affirms the contrast between life and death. Many unbelievers seem to desire death and court dying when they really ought not to; many Christian believers try their best to shun and avoid its arrival, when they really have no need. He is but the grim porter come to escort us to our real home. 

1 Ah! lovely Appearance of Death,
No Sight upon Earth is so fair;
Not all the gay Pageants that breathe,
Can with a dead Body compare.

2 With solemn Delight I survey
The Corpse, when the Spirit is fled,
In Love with the beautiful Clay,
And longing to lie in his stead.

3 How blest is our Brother, bereft
Of all that could burden his Mind?
How easy the Soul, that hath left
This wearisome Body behind!

-Charles Wesley