The Poem “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver
“When Death Comes” is Oliver’s deep thought of what happens when one dies. Oliver narrates how death can determine life when the crossing time reaches and decides to cross over, and new adventures await. Despite reaching the other side, the speaker is determined to look back at life and be comfortable, knowing that it offered beauty and many privileges. Oliver communicates to her audiences, telling them that they should live their lives to the fullest before death takes them away. In “When Death Comes,” the speaker uses personification, simile, juxtaposition, enjambment, and repetition to speak about living life.
In the first stanza, the speaker wastes no time and gets straight to the point using the personification of death. Personification creates a symbolic picture for the readers (Ali et al. 38). The speaker wanted her audience to reflect how death comes and takes people’s souls after removing all the money from the coin purse. The speaker explains that death brings all the bright coins from a man’s purse (Oliver line 3). When one reads the poem, it is noticeable that the speaker did not capitalize on death. This indicates that the speaker wanted the reader to perceive death as of little significance in this poem. Human beings view death as a dramatic thing, but it is a rite of passage and may not be the final. In the first two lines, Oliver uses a simile to show how death comes for the person it targets, “like the hungry bear in autumn.” The poet wants the reader to get clear information on how death destroys peace by using clear diction and specificity.
The second stanza continues the ideas started in the first one, and the author uses a simile to compare the different ways death acts. Similes are useful in depicting how a poet thinks (Zyarih 219). This time, the speaker explains that there is no time left for doubts because it reveals itself as the measle-pox (Oliver lines 5-6). Measle-pox is a childhood illness referring to the measle and chickenpox, which was considered dangerous, especially when their vaccines had not been discovered. Currently, the two diseases have treatment in the form of vaccines. However, during Oliver’s time, it seemed that there was no vaccine for the disease. Many children would die if they contracted the disease, which signifies its severity. The author depicts death as cruel and unforgiving in how it causes people suffering, yet they know that they will never survive in the end. in the second stanza, the speaker uses repetition to stress the thoughts crossing their mind by repeating the poem’s title, “when death comes.”
In addition, the use of simile is evident in stanza three as the author gives a sensation of death’s approach. The author says, “when death comes like an iceberg between the shoulder blades” (lines 7-8). There is a huge comparison in the third one after seeing death as an image from the first stanza. The author uses ‘icebergs’ to compare death and make the audience know the vastness of death. However, icebergs are very cold, and it reveals to us that death is very hurtful to humans. Instead of welcoming death with so much fear, it is good that curiosity plays a part because one should have lived life to the fullest and expect death will take a toll on their life one day. After explaining the swiftness of death by likening it to an iceberg, the speaker wants the ready to view death with curiosity and forget its evil nature. This shows that the speaker is trying to explore the new adventure of imagining how and what happens at the time death comes.
The author uses juxtaposition in stanza four to show how people normally convey death. A cottage is usually associated with images of warmth and coziness that one would want to live in it forever. The author uses a sharp juxtaposition to show how humans view death as dark, cold, and unfamiliar. The author wonders whether death will be like the cottage of darkness filled with hope (Oliver line 10). Oliver gives death a place to play with what humans think about it in their lives. Most people believe that death is an event and is not the case. The speakers want her audience to understand that death is a transition and is never scary. The stress the tone of hope while talking about death which is ironic because people experience hopelessness and fear when they experience death.
Oliver uses enjambment in stanzas five and six to enable the reader to create a pause when reading through the poem. Enjambment provides an insight into what one should know after reading a poem (Sawyer et al. 104). The speaker communicates to her audience that they should view life as being part of a community. Therefore, she says, ” I look upon everything as a brotherhood and sisterhood” (Oliver lines 11-12). Perhaps, Oliver wants her audience to know that everything in the community dies, and they should be ready to face reality. From the sixth stanza, the speaker wants the audience to understand that life resembles a lower and people must be prepared to recognize its commonness. Human life is compared to a flower that is beautiful and different. Each human is beautiful in their way but will always die like flowers.
Oliver uses repetition to show emphasis on life after she is done living. In stanzas nine and ten, Oliver insists on what will happen when life ends. Oliver considers herself the bride and the groom married to live, and she has all it takes to feel good. Repetitions in poetry give rise to different moods (Suryani 405). The repetition of the phrase “When it’s over” because she wants her readers to know that they can embrace life before death strikes them. However, the author explains that it is not her wish to know the only thing achieved was to visit the world (Oliver line 28). She wants people to be happy, that life is enjoyable, and everything is okay. She wants the audience to feel that life is important, and no one should regret not having achieved their dreams while alive. In life, human beings should learn to live to the fullest and take every chance that it offers.
Oliver uses different literary devices to convey her ideas to the reader. Personification helps emphasize death and what most people should believe when it strikes. Similes show a vast comparison of death’s comparison in the poem. When writing poetry, authors utilize enjambment devices to enable the readers to pause for a moment and reflect on what they have read. Authors should focus on using the proper literary devices that connect well will their contents when writing poems.
Ali, Ayad Hammad, and Omar Saadoon Ayyed. “Mechanism of Producing Personification in Emily Dickinson’s Poetry.” Journal of Tikrit University for the Humanities 28.7 (2021). Web.
Oliver, Mary. When Death Comes. Beacon Press, 1992.
Sawyer, Wayne, and Larissa McLean Davies. “What Do We Want Students to Know from Being Taught a Poem?.” Changing English 28.1 (2021): 103-117.
Suryani, Yeni. “Repetition as A Contemporary Portrait in Poetry (A Study of the Use of Majas in Poetry during the Covid-19 Pandemic Period).” International Conference on Education of Suryakancana (IConnects Proceedings). 2021. Web.
Zyarih, Baysh Jabaar. “A Comparative Study in the Poems of Iraj Mirza.” Al-Adab Journal 132 (2020). Web.