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When Death Comes

When Death Comes


by Mary Oliver

Turning from Death to Life

Symbol Analysis

For our speaker, it's important to not only observe and think about life and death, but to make a conscious effort to live in the way she has determined is best. By changing her approach, she turns from fear toward courage and amazement; she takes the moment of death and turns it into a meditation on the way she wants to live.

  • Line 10: Our speaker poses a rhetorical question which opens up the possibilities in death. By using a question instead of a statement (and especially a question whose answer can't be known), she leaves the door as wide open as possible.
  • Line 10: Referring to death as "that cottage of darkness" is a transformation through metaphor. It makes death a place, and begins the process of turning our conventional notions of death on their head.
  • Lines 11-12: Our speaker uses the enjambment (the line break) to create a brief pause so that for a moment, until our eyes can move over to the beginning of the next line, we consider the phrase "Therefore I look upon everything" by itself. We think this is important, since this poem is all about observation, curiosity, and being open to amazement.
  • Lines 11, 13: The repetition of the phrase "I look upon" is a use of anaphora, which helps put a greater emphasis on the act of observation, and the perspective that our speaker takes toward the world.

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