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When Death Comes

When Death Comes

by Mary Oliver

Stanza 3 Summary

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

Lines 7-8

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

  • We've got one more image for death's approach, this time as a sensation: an iceberg between the shoulder blades.
  • We've already seen death as an image, heard that sound of the purse. This comparison is particularly visceral.
  • There's a bit of a size issue. Aren't icebergs really, really big? And people not so much?
  • But the size of the iceberg also helps convey the vastness of death – it's this huge force that acts on us individually.
  • And aren't icebergs really cold? It makes us shiver just to think of it.
  • Let's also not forget the bit about the shoulder blades. What's located between the shoulder blades? Yup, it's the heart. This image conveys the way that death quenches the warmth and movement of the heart, like a big mass of ice.

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