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When Death Comes

When Death Comes

by Mary Oliver

Analysis: Setting

Where It All Goes Down

In a general sense, this poem has a rural feel. It seems to take place somewhere where you might occasionally encounter a bear, where the locals would know which flower is a field daisy, and where you might find a cottage. But it also lives in the imagination: those vivid descriptions of death's approach are like little vignettes; we flash from one possibility to another – in the woods, then a market place, then a small room or hospital bed, then we're inside a person, feeling that chill between our shoulder blades.

We also step back in our speaker's imagination (like zooming way out on Google Maps) to consider the whole world. Then we zoom way in to look at a field of flowers, then a single flower. The poem is definitely taking place in our speaker's mind, dealing with some abstract concepts, but at every step of the way we get those snatches of the world – a dark cottage, a little strain of music, a glimpse of a bride and groom.

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