Tag Archives: Mary Oliver

First Snowfall, A Moment of Grace

For Mary Oliver, the season’s first snow fall raises existential questions and then answers them in its own way.

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Autumn’s Subterranean Mysteries

Oliver’s “Fall Song” captures the “rich spiced residues” of autumn.

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Rain Soft as the Fall of Moccasins

Describing the slaughter of the buffalo herds by whites, Mary Oliver draws on Sioux religion to imagine them as not altogether gone.

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The Silver Water Crushes Like Silk

Although not explicitly religious, Mary Oliver has a Good Friday-Resurrection progression in many of her poems, including “Morning at Great Pond.”

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Far Off the Bells Rang through the Morning

Mary Oliver finds Easter holiness in a new born fawn.

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Such Singing in the Wild Branches

On a beautiful spring morning when she is startled by birdsong, Mary Oliver describes a merging with nature where she “began to understand what the bird was saying.”

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The Black Honey of Summer

My son’s marriage proposal to his Trinidadian girlfriend has become bound up in my mind with a Mary Oliver poem about blackberries.

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Nothing So Sensible as Sensual Inundation

Poetry, with its eye on what really matters, can help us taste food again. Mary Oliver’s “Plum Trees” reminds us to eat with full awareness.

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I Weep for Adonais–He Is Dead

When W. B. Yeat died on January 28, 1939, a despondent W. H. Auden wrote, “The day of his death was a dark cold day,” an instance of how we look to the weather for confirmation of our distress. The idea of a dying friend slipping away without leaving a trace is an unsettling one. Much better if the weather functions as a second witness, which it seems to do if it metaphorically expresses how we feel. When my good friend Alan Paskow died on Tuesday, I latched on to the fact that the day began with a tornado alert and that we were lashed by slashing rain for much of the morning.

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Pretty Is Not What Blazes the Trail

As the ice (or “iron rind”) starts dissolving from the ponds, we may dream of “ferns and flowers and new leaves unfolding.” But the transition from winter to spring is a much grittier affair, characterized less by sweetness and more by lurid smells emerging from chilling mud. The real harbinger of spring may not be the bluebird but the skunk cabbage, celebrated by Mary Oliver in a powerful poem.

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A Place of Parched and Broken Trees

My friend Alan Paskow is finally dying. The poem that comes to mind is Mary Oliver’s “Universal Hospital, Boston.” All around nature is thriving, a contrast with the clean antiseptic rooms within the hospital. The contrast shows up as well in the patient’s eyes, which “are sometimes green and sometimes gray,/and sometimes full of humor, but often not.”

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From Spiritual Hunger to Obesity Epidemic

Spiritual Sunday My wife Julia has been telling me about a book that she’s reading, Geneen Roth’s Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. The thesis of the book seems to be that overeating, like other compulsions and obsessions, is a means of escaping a spiritual emptiness. Or to put it another […]

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Life Storming Out of the Darkness

Spiritual Sunday Today Western Christians observe Pentecost, the day 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection and 10 days after his ascension into heaven.  Pentecost celebrates the moment when the disciplines saw themselves surrounded by tongues of fire and felt lifted up by the Holy Spirit.  In the Book of John (14:16) Jesus is reported to have promised the […]

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Dazzled by Dreams of the Body

Ten years ago my 21-year-old son died on the Sunday following Easter.  The coupling of the tragedy with the celebration of Christ’s resurrection makes my questioning of the religious observance all the more acute.  Do I really believe that Jesus rose from the dead?  Is there life after the death of our bodies?  Or if […]

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The Choice: To Die or to Go on Caring

Yesterday we buried a long-time friend, 98-year-old Maurine Holbert Hogaboom, a New York actress who had retired to southern Maryland.  Tomorrow we commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of my oldest son Justin.  April, a month of new beginnings, has too often proved cruel as well. Nature often works ironically.  Justin, feeling joyous on a […]

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Stepping over Every Dark Thing

John James Audubon, White Egret If life seems hard at the moment, I have a poem that may lift you up: Mary Oliver’s “Egrets.” Oliver is, if not the most popular poet writing in America today, at least among the top five. Her poems often function as prayers to a divine spirit running through nature. In […]

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Poetry in the Face of Death

  Because of my concerns over my friend Alan and his cancer, I will spend another week looking at the role that poetry can play as we confront death and dying. Today’s entry describes how poetry made its way into my life following the death of my son Justin, described in last week’s opening entry […]

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  • 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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