The Dash Poem by Linda Ellis

The Dash Poem by Linda Ellis is one of our favourites of all time. In this article, we take a closer look at its meaning.

By Jenny Dsouza ~

The Dash Poem by Linda Ellis 1

The Dash Poem by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars...the house...the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what's true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we've never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life's actions to rehash...
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?

For centuries, life and death have been philosophies explored by thinkers time and again. Questions of how and why pertaining to birth and death have stirred many and several are still in the quest for answers. However, between the time we are born and the time we die, there lies a dash of events that sum up our life. According to Linda Ellis, this dash represents our whole life.

At the end of the day, we’re going to be remembered for how we celebrated these moments and not the start or the full stop at the end. Most philosophies say that we are looped into an endless cycle of life and death. But what’s a constant is death. Death is going to pay us all a visit at some point or the other, and definitely in this life. While the inevitable is bound to happen, our goal must be to carpe diem our way through life and make our dash worth every bit of it.

About the Poet Linda Ellis

Born in the year 1962 in the USA, Linda Ellis didn’t kickstart her career as a poet until much later. Linda grew up in the United States of America where she worked in the corporate world. From a very young age, Ellis loved expressing her thoughts through raw poetry and writing. She always had that skill within her which was just waiting for the right time to burst open to the world outside. Just like everything else in life, Ellis' right time for writing professionally came soon after she left her corporate job. She realized that her work environment didn’t quite fit well with who she was as a person and neither was she allowed to express herself the way she’d wanted to. This led to the start of a very important era in her life - the era of poetry.

The more Ellis realized the kind of positive impact her words had on people, the more it motivated her to pursue her art. In 1996, Ellis wrote a poem called "The Dash” which was published much later on in 2004. It is this poem that got her instant fame and introduced the world to the real side of Ellis. Ever since then, Ellis has pursued writing and won several awards for it.

Poem Analysis

The poem ‘The Dash’, is one of the most thought-provoking poems of our time. Each life gives us so much to think about. It gently coaxes us to ask the tough questions we've been avoiding while we've been on the hamster wheel. A lot has been said about this poem. And we can derive many meanings from The Dash. Let's take a moment to analyze the poem so we can understand it better.

The Dash, Poem by Linda Ellis is a contemplative poem where "the dash” represents our life. The dash that Linda Ellis refers to is the one that comes between the year of our birth and the year of our death. The dash is the representation of life itself in this instance. Something that comes between our birth and our death. The poem illustrates how that small dash (or life) between the years is all that counts. It is more important to consider how we lived that dash instead of how long we lived it.

The first part of the poem

The poem starts with a recollection of a man she'd read about at a friend's funeral. There was a man who stood up to speak about the death of a loved one. He spoke about the two dates on the tombstone which often denote the beginning and end of our life journeys. As this man continued to narrate the story, he started tearing up. He went on to describe that we put a lot of focus on the birth and the death year when really what matters is the dash (or the life) that we lived between the two years.

Many of us spend our lives in the pursuit of material pleasures and possessions. However, these things don’t give us true happiness, it is just superficial happiness, the kind that dies down and the kind that won’t matter on your deathbed. Real happiness comes from spending time with loved ones, fulfilling our dreams, making efforts to put a smile on the faces of others, experiencing new things, and helping those in need. Real happiness follows when we recognize the things that should matter the most in life.

The dash represents life itself, the life we spend on this planet. The dash represents all our highs and lows, all the hellos and goodbyes, and every moment we spend here while we’re still alive. But most importantly, the dash represents the impact we have had on the people around us. It is this dash that really matters more than anything else. 

All the material things that we chase when we are alive and all the time we spend in the pursuit of these things amount to nothing because we leave it all behind when we leave the earth. What truly matters is how we live our lives and how we choose to spend our time when we are alive.

The second part of the poem

In the second half of the poem, the poet urges us to look inwards. She tells us to spend time in careful reflection about life and ask ourselves how we want our dash, how we want to be remembered, and what impact we want to create. None of us know truly how much time we have, and we must live every moment to the fullest. She tells us that we should reconsider what is truly important to us and make amends now before our time runs out.

We are often in such a hurry to get nowhere. There will always be something to rush about and create a fuss over. It’s either going to be that pending submission or that missed flight or that yoga class you’re running late for. It’s easy to get lost in this noise but the trick here is to still find yourself at the end of every day despite this noise. Life won’t be life without its hubbub and noise. But you know what can help? A calm mind and taking one thing at a time.

The poet urges us to slow down. To consider what we value. To truly see what others are feeling. She suggests that we leave anger behind and consider appreciation instead. That we cherish and love the people in our lives like never before. She urges us to choose respect and to smile a little more often. Because we don't know how long we are going to be here together.

The last part of the poem

In the last stanza of the poem, Linda Ellis asks us a question that instantly stirs our souls. She asks us that when someone stands up during our funeral and talks about our dash, would we be happy and content? Would our dash make others smile? If not, then it's about time we start living our Dash.

The poem ends on a beautiful note. It is a subtle reminder for us to make our dash worth every minute of it. When we die, it is not the houses we owned or the cars we drove that matter. It is not the type of champagne we drank or the kind of jewelry that we wore that matters. After all, those things are in the past tense both verbally and metaphorically. What is remembered is the type of people we associated ourselves with, the challenges we took, the hobbies we picked up, the way we spoke to our loved ones, and the mark we left behind on the world.

Ellis reminds us of the tiny things that create a big impact in our lives as well as the people around us. She urges us to live our dash to the fullest.

What can we take away from this poem?

Life is not just the dates etched on our tombstones or the years we lived. Life is the quality of these years. Life is how we lived these years and what we did to make every minute count. There may be people who may have been there in our lives for a very brief period, sometimes even minutes. However, these people can leave a big lingering impression on us even when they are no longer around. Life is like this person. It doesn’t matter how long we stay. What matters is how we make the best use of the time we have and the impressions we create on people. For, it is these impressions that stay even after we die.

This poem is a wonderful reminder of the Carpe Diem Philosophy (live life to its fullest). The poem inspires all its readers to make every day, every minute, and every moment count. It reminds us that every interaction we have in life, every opportunity we miss or take, and every decision we take mold us into the people that we are. Thus, we must make our dash impactful. When things are tough and we are losing focus, we often refer to this poem. It has a soothing way to ground us. Refocus on what is important when we get carried away by meaningless things. The poem helps us reconnect with our dash. Poems like these bring us back to the present so we are here, now. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

The Dash Poem Printable Free

(Download The Dash Poem Printables)

Dash Poem_Linda Ellis_Lifeism.png

Live Your Dash

Loved the poem? Did you know that Linda Ellis actually published a book around this poem called "Live Your Dash"? And it is beautiful! If you'd like to own your own copy, you can get it here on Amazon. You can visit the author's website- Linda Ellis Life to enjoy her other literary works.

*Disclaimer: We may earn a small affiliate income if you use the link above to purchase the book on Amazon.

The poem is written by Linda Ellis, Copyright © 2020 Inspire Kindness, thedashpoem[.]com.



I like the way you structure your poem blogs, again very well written

Popular on Lifeism