It is obvious that the poet has broken away from the conventional image one has of death as a dark force epitomized by a cloaked and hooded figure, carrying a scythe. Here, Death is personified as a young man attired in bright garments, as if he were out to have fun. Death is not some gloomy and disparaging figure that would frighten the wits out of its victim.
The speaker has encountered Death in a nightmare and its purpose is clear. It wants to take the speaker's life and seems to relish the task, for it has "a broad white smile." Furthermore, the exorbitant and flashy colors that Death wears suggests that it is there to celebrate, and its flamboyance suggests a carnival. Death is "beautiful" and a "saga boy," which is a West Indian expression for a smartly dressed young man.
This image, as already mentioned, contrasts directly with the general view of Death and what it actually represents. Dying is not deemed a pleasant affair, and one who senses its cold grasp will definitely try and resist, which is exactly what the speaker does. She hits Death, but does not manage to stave him off since he reaches out to her once more. Fortunately, she wakes from her terrible nightmare, but the experience was so unsettling that she struggles to breathe after waking.
Clearly, the message has to be that Death can come in many guises and its victims can be easily fooled when it assumes a different image from the one we are accustomed to seeing. In this sense, the poem serves as a warning. We should not be misled by that which seems attractive and pleasant, for the ultimate danger may lurk behind its artificial exterior.
This poem, similar to Emily Dickinson's poem "Because I could not stop for Death," depicts Death as something pleasant and benign. The difference, however, lies in the fact that Emily Dickinson's poem is one of hope for an eternal life, whilst this poem's message is more direct and warns against the implicit dangers we may be confronted with when we are deceived by that which presents itself as good.