And When I Die

Let’s talk more about death but let’s be cheerful about it: Do you know that poem by Mary Oliver When Death Comes? I loved it so much when I first saw it that I typed it up and  framed it: For the last 15 years it has hung in our downstairs bathroom, right at eye level  over the toilet so that most of  our male visitors know it by heart. One does anyway. You could go up to this young guy while he was skiing down a mountain in the middle of blizzard and say recite “When Death Comes” and bam! he’d do it for you. Perfectly. At lightning speed. (Ah Youth!)

I used to know it by heart. Now I can get through only the first few lines alas, the rest having gotten tumbled around with all the other things I know by heart like “Stopping by Woods on A Snowy Evening” and “Jabberwocky” and the Preamble to the Constitution. Thanks to the minor deities Cut and Paste though, I can give it to you now:

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 his 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 a 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.

Pretty nice eh? And here’s another nice one, a song Laura Nyro wrote that Peter Paul & Mary covered in the 60s before Blood Sweat & Tears got their hands on it. A great tune with a great message, whoever’s doing the singing.

4 thoughts on “And When I Die

  1. Live well today, die well tomorrow…

    One day the Emperor came to Zen Master Takuan and complained, “I am so busy all day long. I feel like my life is not my own but that of others and the time I do have for myself is spent with many concerns. How can you help me?” Master Takuan took his ink quill and scroll parchment and in Japanese characters wrote: ” Inch Time. Foot Gem”

    “What does this mean exclaimed the Emperor?” Takuan wrote again:

    “Each passing moment, a jewel. Each day, a precious gem.”

  2. Bio-scientists are working on enabling us to live forever. Stem cells, etc. Think of the population explosion — we will have to move to Mars. And then what?

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