This poem makes me stop and re-evaluate the trajectory of my life each and every time I read it. “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.” Isn’t that what we all want? To know we have been part of something real. The statement turns into a question, daring me to answer.
Then, she ends with a real gob-smacker. “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” This poem is everything a poem should be. Evocative, simple, and transports you to somewhere you didn’t know you wanted to go. I love Mary Oliver.
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 his 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 a 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.
In another of her poems, Oliver says, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”