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When Death Comes

When Death Comes


by Mary Oliver

The Equality of All Living Things

Symbol Analysis

A big part of this poem is celebrating the bond between all living things. Even as the poem explores death, it focuses on the courage of each living thing, and the way that death makes each thing precious.

  • Lines 15-16: The simile comparing each life to a flower has two purposes, which our speaker lays out for us. It describes the commonness of life, which stresses the commonality of experience shared by all things, and also the uniqueness of each life. Thus our speaker uses this one comparison to make a complex point about how a life can be both individual and shared, unique and common.
  • Line 17: Here our speaker compares each name to a comfortable music in the mouth. This line hovers somewhere between a simile and a metaphor. Our speaker has dropped the 'as' but it is carried over by implication from the line before. Whatever you want to call it, the comparison has a way of unifying each thing, by placing the emphasis not on the differences between names, but how they are all "music in the mouth."
  • Lines 22-23: In order to take her place in the world, to embrace her connection to the community of living things, our speaker wants to metaphorically wed herself to amazement and to the world. These lines have an implied personification of amazement and the world, transforming them into a bridegroom and a bride.

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