The Measure of a Life

If people mean anything at all by the cant expression "untimely death," they must believe that some deaths run on a better schedule than others. Death in old age is rarely called untimely--a long life is thought to be a full one. But with the passing of a young person, one assumes that the best years lay ahead and the measure of that life was still to be taken.

History denies this, of course. Among prominent summer deaths, one recalls those of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, whose lives seemed equally brief and complete. Writers cannot bear the fact that poet...

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