skip to main content


Editor's Note: Garuba, I. O. (2019). The Ageing Poet and Death Anxiety: Art as Existential Therapy in John Pepper Clark's "Of Sleep and Old Age". English Studies at NBU, 5(2), 268-283. DOI: 10.33919/esnbu.19.2.5

Vol.5, Issue 2, 2019, pp.268-283 Full text

Crossmark logo

Web of Science: 000512305100007

Issa Omotosho Garuba

Affiliation: University of Ilorin, Ilorin, Nigeria

Death anxiety refers to the human experience of death awareness and the accompanying inescapable disquiet it provokes. It is a phenomenon in human existence which has attracted substantial studies from existential and psychological perspectives. Noting that every individual experiences this anxiety at some point in life, largely as a result of the awareness of the inevitability of death, the manner and extent to which it is experienced vary from individuals. Meanwhile, existential reflections have described 'death acceptance' as the healthy route to lessening this angst. It therefore presupposes that acceptance of death (i.e. knowing that one is a being-towards-death and therefore embracing and acknowledging it) is existentially therapeutic. On this note, in studying J. P. Clark's Of Sleep and Old Age, artistic creativity is being constructed in the study as an existential therapy against death anxiety for the poetic persona. It is premised, on the one hand, on the poet's eloquent vision of the boredom of existence and the horror of death which characterize the atmosphere of the text. On the other, the poet's age has been considered as a factor-agent which has bestowed on him the capacity to be conscious of an imminent death, thereby accepting it via keen reflections in his art. The study adopts two theoretical models in existential studies: (1) Monika Ardelt's 'Wisdom', 'Religiosity' and 'Purpose in Life' and (2) John Sommers-Flanagan and Rita Sommers-Flanagan's model of 'Existential Therapy' to assess the sway and/or centrality of death anxiety to understanding the text.

Keywords: aging, death anxiety, existential therapy, John Pepper Clark, existentialism

Article history:
Submitted: 10 August 2019;
Reviewed: 9 October 2019;
Revised: 16 October 2019;
Accepted: 20 December 2019;
Published: 30 December 2019

Citation (APA):
Garuba, I. O. (2019). The Ageing Poet and Death Anxiety: Art as Existential Therapy in John Pepper Clark's "Of Sleep and Old Age". English Studies at NBU, 5(2), 268-283.

Copyright © 2019 Issa Omotosho Garuba

This open access article is published and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0), which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. If you want to use the work commercially, you must first get the authors' permission.

Ardelt, M. (2008). Wisdom, Religiosity, Purpose in Life, and Death Attitudes in Aging Adults. In Tomer, A., Eliason, G. T. & Wong, P. T. P. (Eds.), Existential and Spiritual Issues in Death Attitudes, (pp. 139-158). Taylor & Francis Group.

Becker, E. (1973). The Denial of Death. The Free Press.

Clark, J. P. (2010). Full Tide: Collected Poems. Mosuro Publishers.

Chon, H. W. (1997). Existential Thought and Therapeutic Practice. Sage.

Choron, J. (1963). Death and Western Thought. Macmillan.

Egudu, R. (1977). Four Modern West African Poets. Nok Publishers.

Niemiec, R. M. & Schulenberg, S. E. (2011). Understanding Death Attitudes: The Integration of Movies, Positive Psychology, and Meaning Management. Death Studies, 35(5), 387-407.

Sommers-Flanagan, J. & Sommers-Flanagan, R. (2004). Counselling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice: Skills, Strategies, and Techniques. John Wiley & Sons.
Spinelli, E. (2008). Foreword. In Tomer, A., Eliason, G. T. & Wong, P. T. P. (Eds.), Existential and Spiritual Issues in Death Attitudes, (pp. xxix-xx). Taylor & Francis Group.

Tomer, A. & Eliason, G.T. (2008). Existentialism and Death Anxiety. In Tomer, A., Eliason, G. T. & Wong, P. T. P. (Eds.), Existential and Spiritual Issues in Death Attitudes, (pp. 7-37). Taylor & Francis Group.

Wong, P. T. P. (2008). Meaning Management Theory and Death Acceptance. In Tomer, A., Eliason, G. T. & Wong, P. T. P. (Eds.), Existential and Spiritual Issues in Death Attitudes, (pp. 65-87). Taylor & Francis Group


1. Reviewer's name: Tadd Graham Fernée, PhD, New Bulgarian University
Review Verified on Publons
Review Content:
This manuscript presents an original and interesting perspective on the work of Nigerian poet John Pepper Clark's Of Sleep and Old Age. Drawing from selections in the volume, the author articulates how Clark's work provides a tableau for existential analysis of human life. The author draws attention to the local Nigerian context and the universal human condition, woven into a biographical portrait of the artist’s life of creative struggle touching on society, politics, and family.

The author presents Clark's poetry as a universal vista for an in-depth exploration of existential themes of time, illuminating stages on life's way as permanently interwoven with death as imaginary specter and impending physical reality. As such, the manuscript engages a broad philosophical horizon. It does so well, articulating the implications for spirituality, imaginings of afterlife, reckonings with finitude, and relations in community. The purpose of the article seems to be an exploration of the self as a permanent metamorphosis, which can be encountered in a wide variety of ways by different individuals.

The author successfully develops an interesting theoretical framework for analyzing Clark's work. It comprises studies of human psychological and sociological reckoning with death as an existential problem, with an additional philosophical architecture grounded in Heideggerian existential thematics. These explanations, occurring in the early part of the manuscript, are then well integrated with more biographical materials on Clark's labors in articulating his existential epiphanies on memory, old age and mortality as a universal human problematic and existential predicament - concerning not merely individual but also community and ultimately the world. As such, the author seems to offer an interesting meditation on the role of the artist in society.

The manuscript is well written and coherent. The style is accessible to a general readership while dealing with philosophical issues that can sometimes be different and obscure. The style corresponds well to the purpose of the article. Any reader concerned with poetry and the place of the artist in modern societies should be interested in the article. Moreover, readers interested in existential philosophy should find the article interesting. Finally, the article might appeal to those concerned with large questions about the human condition, about the aging process, dealing with death and loss, and finding ways to experience these inevitabilities in as positive way as possible.

2. Reviewer's name: Undisclosed
Review Content: Undisclosed
Review Verified on Publons

Handling Editor: Stan Bogdanov
Verified Editor Record on Publons:

Article Metrics