In Steenwyck’s still life, “An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life”, the artist uses the juxtaposition of objects, as well as the juxtaposition of light and darkness to convey a sense of mortality. To be sure, the painting serves as an everyday memento mouri, with the human skull in the foreground reminding us in an all-too-Shakespearean manner, that we too will die. …
Then there is the musical instrument to the far right—a bit more frivolous an object, and a sword near the center—certainly not as common as a book. There is also a sort of musical instrument with the skull, which is the obvious focal point of the painting. The wooden flute is set near its mouth, almost to look as though the skull is playing it. In fact, perhaps the skull is smiling as it plays a whimsical tune. Also interesting, however, is the light source, a small window, presumably near the ceiling. The light illuminates only the skull, and leaves the other images in relative darkness, as if to say that what is important in the picture is the reminder of death, rather than the other “Vanities of Human Life” that are portrayed. Death, the artist seems to suggest is another of these vanities, however, as the skull plays upon its flute almost whimsically. Perhaps he is trying to tell us that death is the most beautiful vanity of all, as it removes us from the other banalities of existence. In John Keats’ poem, “When I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be”, we see the two most common themes of Keats’ entire body of poetry—those of unrequited love, and fear of death—here together in one poem. He uses the sonnet form, with three quatrains and a rhyming couplet at the end. (This can also be seen as an octet and sestet). The natural divisions in the form of the poem organize his fears about love and death. ...
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