Mary Oliver – When Death Comes


“When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.”

– Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver‘s poem When Death Comes is a meditation on death and an uplifting reminder of the joy and importance of a life well-lived. Above all, she wishes curiosity for herself as she steps through the door into the ‘cottage of darkness.’ Such an attitude then allows for the kind of life where one would be a ‘bride married to amazement’ and not someone who had simply been a visitor.

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 (1935-2019)
From: Devotions

6 thoughts on “Mary Oliver – When Death Comes”

  1. What better aspiration for a life well-lived and a death embraced, knowing it is a book-end to such a life. I am reading it right now as a beloved therapy client may still be dying, having taken medication to end her life about 40 minutes ago (not with me). I read this poem to her several times and she would like it read at her memorial service.

    1. “Cottage of darkness” is a comforting way to look at the end. I’m hoping I still have a few years left to “embrace amazement” though.

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