If November 1 is Día de Todos los Santos, All Saints’ Day, then November 2 is Día de los Muertos; English, seemingly more death-averse yet also more forward-looking than Spanish, calls that All Souls’ Day in preference to the literal Day of the Dead. Spanish muerto comes from Latin mortuus ‘dead,’ the past participle of the Latin verb morire ‘to die’ that has become Spanish morir. In contrast to the masculine muerto and feminine muerta, both adjectives meaning ‘dead,’ the feminine muerte is a noun that means ‘death.’
And after writing the words morir and muerte, I can’t help but want to quote the famous lines written by the 15th-century Spanish poet Jorge Manrique as part of Coplas por la muerte de su padre, or Stanzas on the Death of His Father:
Nuestras vidas son los ríos
que van a dar en la mar,
que es el morir.
Our lives are the rivers
that will flow into the sea
that is death.
And after that, what more is there to say?
© 1476 Jorge Manrique and © 2010 Steven Schwartzman