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When Death Comes

When Death Comes


by Mary Oliver

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Line 4

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

  • So death takes those coins out to buy our speaker's life!
  • Guess we should've seen that coming. Taking lives is kind of death's MO.
  • It makes us wonder: what kind of currency is this? Who does death pay?
  • This line has a strange way of setting up life and death like a market place, a cycle of buying and selling.
  • The sound of the purse snapping shut is kind of terrifying. What might otherwise be an ordinary sound is amplified by the relation to death. Who would have thought a purse could sound so scary or so final?

Lines 5-6

when death comes
like the measle-pox;

  • The re-imagining keeps going: now death's approach is like that of a disease, specifically the measle-pox.
  • We're starting to catch on that death can come in a number of ways. Big or small, slow or sudden, with or without suffering (death with the purse was scary, but didn't sound too painful; the measle-pox sounds like it might be a rather unpleasant way to go).

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