In April, Frogs Shout Their Desire

Spring peeper

Spring peeper

The frogs are singing their lust in the marshes that border the college where I teach, bringing to mind Mary Oliver’s poem “Blossom.” Oliver’s harsh image of death—“Time chops at us all like an iron hoe”—gives a special urgency to the “frogs shouting their desire.” The poem thrusts forward in spasmodic bursts as it tries to capture “the burning.”

It so happens that I was teaching 17th century carpe diem poems yesterday and we were discussing exactly this contrast. Andrew Marvell conjures up images of worms and graves as he tries to persuade his coy mistress to “tear our pleasures with rough strife.”

Each of the poets we discussed invokes time and, while they talk about it differently, each sees a transcendent moment when the sexual moment trumps the chopping hoe.

To start with a contrast, Donne conjures up a Platonic vision where the sun stops in the heavens to shine upon the perfect lovers.

Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere; 
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.

Marvell, in the carpe diem tradition, acknowledges that he can’t hope for such a reprieve. He asserts, however, that the lovers can at least give the sun a run for his money:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

John Wilmot tells us that Heaven allows no more that a “live-long minute” of constancy:

Then talk not of inconstancy,
         False hearts, and broken vows;
If I, by miracle, can be
This live-long minute true to thee,
         ’Tis all that Heav’n allows.

For Oliver, time lies shattered as we enter the body of another.


By Mary Oliver

In April
   the ponds
         like black blossoms,
the moon
   swims in every one;
     there’s fire
         everywhere: frogs shouting
their desire,

   their satisfaction. What
      we know: that time
         chops at us all like an iron
hoe, that death
   is a state of paralysis. What
      we long for: joy
         before death, nights
in the swale—everything else
   can wait, but not
      this thrust
         from the root
of the body. What
   we know: we are more
      than blood—we are more
         than our hunger and yet
we belong
   to the moon and when the ponds
      open, when the burning
         begins the most
thoughtful among us dreams
   of hurrying down
      into the black petals,
         into the fire
into the night where time lies shattered,
into the body of another


This entry was posted in Donne (John), Marvell (Andrew), Oliver (Mary), Wilmot (John). Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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