Words of WonderWhen death comes - Mary Oliver

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.

by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver died this week, in her own home, at 83 years old. The worldwide web is full with the loving words of many people expressing their gratitude and appreciation for her and her many works of poetry-art (and here is a rare and beautiful interview with her from a few years ago).

And of course I can’t know, but I don’t think death found her ‘sighing and frightened, or full of argument’. I feel sadness and poignancy at her passing, and somehow want to assure her that she doesn’t have to wonder and yes, she really has ‘made of her life something particular, and real’. And that her poems speak of how she has been ‘married to amazement’, and how she has ‘taken the world into her arms’.

And I wholeheartedly hope, and right now renew my aim, to do the same.

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash


  1. A perfect poem for me this week, on Tuesday evening my brother lost his long-fought battle against cancer and passed peacefully in the hospice.

    It has been a time of great sadness and yet also great relief that he is no longer suffering. I have been practising Tonglen for him and had just completed my sit when I received the message of his passing. I felt peaceful knowing that I had been giving and receiving for him at the moment of his transition, and that I had in some way been able to help and ease his final journey from this life.

    I am deeply grateful for the kindness and care that I have received from everyone around me, particularly my classmates on the MSc who have been a wonderful source of kindness and compassion at this time.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful poem, Mary Oliver has such a way with words and these are just perfect.

    warmly, Kath

  2. Thank you, Kristine for this poem in tribute to Mary Oliver’s recent passing. What an amazing women she was, full of insight and understanding. I would’ve loved to have known her but actually, I felt I did know her! I listened to a Krista Tippett interview with her from 2015 a few days ago. It was wonderful x

  3. Hi Anne, I know what you mean with that sense of kind of knowing her… I hope she somehow knew or felt how much her words meant for others, me very much included. Glad you enjoyed the interview as well!

  4. Dear Kath, I’m glad to hear this poem met you well in the poignant time of your brother’s recent passing… and what a beautiful thing to have done tonglen for him during his last breaths. Blessings on your months to come where you find your way in the world with him no longer here in body, and may there be much kindness and compassion continuing to come your way! Warm wishes to you, kristine

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