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When Death Comes

When death comes 
like the hungry bear in autumn; 
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; 
when death comes 
like the measle-pox;

when death comes 
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: 
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything 
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, 
and I look upon time as no more than an idea, 
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common 
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, 
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something 
precious to the earth.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life 
I was a bride married to amazement. 
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder 
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, 
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

—Mary Oliver

© 1992 by Mary Oliver, from New & Selected Poems: Vol 1. Beacon Press, Boston.

 

Poetry 180

About the Poet

Mary Oliver (1935- ) is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. She has published several poetry collections, including Dog Songs: Poems (Penguin Books, 2015).

Learn more about Mary Oliver at The Poetry Foundation.