Study Guide

When Death Comes Speaker

By Mary Oliver

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Our speaker, the way we picture it, is a thoughtful woman who lives in a rural area. Although death is the major focus of the poem, and death is clearly connected to the body, our speaker doesn't really have a physical presence here. We get the image of death as an "iceberg between the shoulder blades," but that comes before we've encountered the speaker (notice she doesn't say 'my shoulder blades.') Then later we have the line "taking the world into my arms," but it seems more of a metaphorical gesture than a specific image of our speaker.

We can tell, though, that she's a close observer of the world, particularly the natural world. The vivid images tell us that she pays very close attention to the world around her. We can picture her bending down in the field to examine the petals of a tiny flower or standing still for an hour in the woods to watch a bear shamble by in the distance. And the fact that she devotes a lot of attention to the mysteries of life and death, and to developing her own philosophy, tells us that she also has a lively intellectual and spiritual life.

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