"First Death in Nova Scotia" is a short poem by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in Questions of Travel (1965). The poem tells of a child's first experience of death in the context of a relative's wake.
A young child is taken into a parlor on a winter day to view her deceased cousin Arthur who is laid out in a coffin resembling a "little frosted cake". The child notes a stuffed loon standing on a marble-topped table eyeing the casket and chromolithographs of British royalty in ermine trains hung above the deceased. The child is given a lily of the valley and lifted by her mother to place the flower in dead Arthur's hand. The child thinks that Jack Frost has touched Arthur's hair with a bit of red paint and that the royals have invited Arthur to be "the smallest page at court". The child wonders how Arthur will ever go to court because "his eyes are shut up so tight" and the roads are "deep in snow".
Bishop was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1911, and, following the death of her father and the institutionalization of her mother, was passed from one relative to another. Her earliest years were spent on the coast of Nova Scotia. At Vassar, she