If we speak here of contemporary literature, let us nevertheless recall that in all ages men have recorded certain common responses to death and mortality that vary little. The universal themes of dread and stupor, of grief and compunction, of transience and corruptibility — such poignancies of our finite condition underlie whatever special cultural or even religious influences come into play, or whatever particular hopes are projected. It is for this reason that elegies for fallen heroes and laments for toppled cities and broken hopes, in Job or Homer, are still moving, or the heartbreak in a papyrus letter, or the plangent grief of Catullus as he comes across many seas to his brother's grave,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem.
Indeed, we must say that it is only in total openness to such common experience of grief and trepidation that other more positive overtones of death can make themselves felt and justify themselves.