Why are Mary Oliver’s poems important now? During the pandemic, most of us have experienced feelings of loneliness, hopelessness and a longing to go out into the world and be amidst nature once again. We’ve missed simple things like a cool breeze outside, or trekking, walking in a flower park, and so on.
While we may not be able to be out and about very often for quite a while, there is hope yet for us vagabond souls. The soulful and nature-filled poetry of Mary Oliver brings memories of being in the midst of nature, flooding back once more.
Mary Oliver’s poems are something you can read every morning with a cup of tea, sitting down and taking a moment for yourself. They remind you of the small mercies of everyday life, and the awe-inspiring beauty of nature and of small things.
The best part, perhaps, is that you require no dictionary or analytic tool to decipher what she hopes to say in her poems. They are simple, and wonderful in the way they simply are. They do not disguise themselves or pretend to be anything other than what they offer. And what they offer, they offer wholeheartedly. Hope.
Mary Oliver was born on September 10, 1935, in Maple Heights, Ohio, with a poet’s soul. She went on to become a best-selling artist, earning both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Following her death earlier this year, we have been basking in one of the many gifts she left behind: her writing.
Unlike many poets, she seldom wrote about individuals. Instead, she was passionately focused on the natural world’s splendour, violence, grief, and beauty. It wasn’t until her later works that she began to focus more inward, on her own identity.
A Mary Oliver Poem
Here is one of her poems, which teaches us to enjoy and relish each moment of happiness, and not despair at the fear that it will not last for long:
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
Mary Oliver, unsurprisingly, has become a favourite of poetry audiences of all ages for her lyrical, personal, and empathetic poems, many of which use nature as a lens to explore the range of human emotions, from happiness to grief and misery. The best Mary Oliver poetry advises us to take a breather, to enjoy our surroundings, and to never take it for granted.
Mary would then go on to create more than 15 collections of poetry and essays during her lifetime as a poet and essayist. She would also find love with her long-term partner, photographer Molly Malone Cook. And she would continue to influence worlds of poets to write, both then and now.
Her work encourages us to live in the present moment, to take an active role in how our lives unfold, and to enjoy the environment around us. It teaches us that nature is holy, and that we are valuable as natural beings as well.
We can image Mary Oliver fiddling and toiling in some lovely garden in Florida, where she died, surrounded by water, wildlife, and the skies she adored.