Royce Shook

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When death comes...

A friend of mine is 81 and we were talking about health issues and I hope to be in as good a shape as he is when I am his age. Death is a fact of life that we do not talk about very much, except at a Celebration of Life event. I came across a poem which spoke to me and it was by a poet named Mary Oliver. 

I found out that she was a celebrated poet and she died January 17, 2019, at the age of 83. Before you read the poem here is some information on her. She was a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, wrote rapturous odes to nature and animal life that brought her critical acclaim and popular affection.

She won the Pulitzer in 1984 for American Primitive and the National Book Award in 1992 for New and Selected Poems. In 1998, she received the Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement. Her fans ranged from fellow poets Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove to Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. She wrote often of mortality, but with a spirit of gratitude and completion. In Circles, she pronounced herself “content” not to live forever, having been “filled” by what she saw and believed. In When Death Comes, she hoped that at the end of life she could look back and see herself as a “bride married to amazement".

I suspect everyone's experience or thinking of their own mortality is different; informed by who they are and where they are in their lives. But this poem, written by Mary Oliver, who died from lymphoma, is an interesting take on death.

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, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.

When it’s 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


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