Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

When Death Comes (for Mary Oliver)


Have you heard? Mary Oliver has died. The best beloved poet of our time? Yes. Maybe. But I’m sure – not only in my mind.

She walked in beauty, like the night.

I’ve given her collection Devotions to more people than I can remember. I loved Dog Songs as much as one can love a book of poetry. It’s joyful! And funny! Sometimes sad. (And about dogs.)

When I putter around my yard and notice the way one leaf nestles up to another, I hear Mary Oliver whispering between them. Or whispering to me: listen. Pepper hears her murmurings too among trees and squirrels (that’s what she said).

She walked in beauty, like the night – of cloudless climes and starry skies. And all that’s best of dark and bright met in her aspect and her eyes. And in her lines. (Thanks – and apologies – Lord Byron.)

I never met Mary Oliver. I never especially wanted to. But the gift she’s given me in her words is the gift of light – and hope – and despair – and always – finally – wonder. And love. Her words are enough.

Here’s one of her poems for today.

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.

—Mary Oliver


*      *      *

(Photos from my house, from my Iphone. Today.)



  1. Lovely, Jennifer. Xo

  2. Oh . . . I loved her so. Thank you for this Jennifer. xoxoxo

  3. So timely. She had many readers.

  4. I read her poem “Goldfinches” at my Mother’s burial. She, too, was a lover of that bright, yellow bird. May she be …..happier than she has ever been…..

  5. Jennifer, a beautiful and poetic tribute. I had not read this poem, thanks for sharing.

  6. Thank you, Jen! Beautiful tribute.

  7. My husband has always read poetry…always..but never came across Mary Oliver until tonight. And he has fallen in love. And now I can experience the joy of his discovery. And celebrate Mary.

  8. Thank you for this tribute to Oliver. I, too, love her poetry!

  9. Jennifer,

    Beth and I love Dog Songs. Your tribute to Mary Oliver is poetic and heartfelt.


  10. Jennifer,

    This is perfect. A gem of a tribute.


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