Study Guide

When Death Comes Awe and Amazement

By Mary Oliver

Awe and Amazement

When death comes
like […] (lines 1-2)

Right away in the opening images that describe the approach of death, we can see our speaker's capacity for imagination, and for taking in the vast and strange nature of an awesome force like death. While the images certainly can be scary, there is also a sense of wonder and appreciation for all the wild and different forms death can take, the ways it can feel.

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? (lines 9-10)

This line is the first clear announcement that our speaker intends to make curiosity her response to the unknown, and not fear or disinterest. She intends to be open and available to the wonders and possibilities of the world, and what might be beyond this world.

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood, (lines 11-12)

That line break puts emphasis on the act of looking upon everything. We cannot be amazed and awed and we cannot get to know the world, if we don't observe it. As the line continues, it also stresses seeing the connections between things. It makes those connections seem as important as the things themselves.

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility (lines 13-14)

This capacity for awe and amazement also seems connected to a willingness to disregard certain conventions (such as our view of time) and entertain ideas such as eternity (which is certainly an awesome concept, in both senses of the word).

I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular (lines 15-16)

Her capacity for amazement does not just apply to big, abstract forces like death, but also for the smallest, most transient of things. This line demonstrates an equality of care and attention given to things great and small.

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement" (lines 21-22)

Here our speaker comes right out and says it. She wants to be connected to a sense of amazement all throughout her life. Being able to be amazed seems to be a way of taking in the world, of both appreciating and being a part of it.