One of the astonishing aspects of [Oliver's] work is the consistency of tone over this long period. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets. . . . These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward.
"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things."
So writes Mary Oliver in one of the first poems of this collection---and throughout she exposes her confrontation with mortality and her and our earthbound nature.
Selected in reverse chronological order, the poems show the growth of the poet over three decades. He language is vivid and her poetic seeing often surprisingly exact:
"the black snake jellies forward"
"and the birds, in the endless waterfalls of the trees"
She loves life, loves nature, with the passion of one who knows mortality in the flight of an owl's hunger. Spend some time with this poet and the wonderful words she leaves behind for us to follow, like a trail through the forest.