Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.
Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets, indeed, one of my favorite writers. Her curious, sharp intellect, her love-affair with the natural world and her devotion, combine to create unforgettable, breathtaking works.
This collection of essays, is both more and less than that. There are essays, yes, but also poems. Her prose is as lucid and luminous as her poetry. In the first two sections of this collection she writes of tides and grasses, of herons and plovers and small white dogs, of kelp and toads, snakes and raspberries, wild carrots and a town's burn dump. All with equal wonder, with an eye to God everywhere.
The third section is a reprint of Oliver's introductions to the Modern Library works of Wordsworth and Hawthorne. I found them interesting, but perhaps a bit out of place. They felt like filler.
The final section contains more poems and a few short essays, one of which is called 'Home'. The final paragraph is:
"It is one of the perils of our so-called civilized age that we do not yet acknowledge enough, or cherish enough, this connection between soul and landscape--between our own best possibilities and the view from our own windows. We need the world as much as it needs us, and we need it in privacy, intimacy, and surety. We need the field from which the lark rises--bird that is more than itself, that is the voice of the universe: vigorous, godly joy. Without the physical wold such hope is: hacked off. Is: dried up. Without wilderness no fish could leap and flash, no deer could bound soft as eternal waters over the field; no bird could open its wings and become buoyant, adventurous, valorous beyond even the plan of nature. Nor could we."
There were two other pieces that seem to me connected to this idea of soul and place and God. The first is from "Three Histories and a Humminbird":
"What can we do about God, who makes and then breaks every god-forsake, beautiful day?
What can we do about all those graves
in the wood, in old pastures in small town in the
bellies of cities?
God's heavy footsteps through the bracken through the bog through the dark wood his breath like a swollen river
his switch, lopping the flowers, forgive me, Lord, how I
And this, the last stanza from "By the Wild-Haired Corn":
"I grow soft in my speech,
and soft in my thoughts,
and I remember how everything will be everything else,
by and by."
It's been my experience that the best writing grants us the gift of recognition, that moment when we raise our eyes from the book, our finger marking the place in the page where we found ourselves, as we say, in open-mouthed wonder, "Yes, that's it, that's the thing I've always known."
So, yes, that.