When Death Comes

William Stafford is my favorite poet. He wrote of the Oregon and Washington landscape in a way that was an exact mirror of his subject. Because of him, I found Mary Oliver. Mary Oliver died today.

Her online obituary states:

Her poetry developed in close communion with the landscape she knew best, the rivers and creeks of her native Ohio, and, after 1964, the ponds, beech forests, and coastline of her chose hometown, Provincetown. She spent her final years in Florida, a relocation that brought with it the appearance of mangroves. “I could not be a poet without the natural world,” she wrote. “Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” In the words of the late Lucille Clifton, “She uses the natural world to illuminate the whole world.” In her attention to the smallest of creatures, and the most fleeting of moments, Oliver’s work reveals the human experience at its most expansive and eternal. She lives poetry as a faith and her singular, clear-eyed understanding of the verse’s vitality of purpose began in childhood, and continued all her life. “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

Obituary via Facebook

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, towards silence

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

::: ::: ::: :::

Precious prayers. Thank you for the words, the beauty, and the truth, Ms. Oliver.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply