New and Selected Poems, Volume One
by Mary Oliver
Of the Perfect, Stone-Hard Beauty of Everything
A review by Doug Brown
Perhaps I'm the last person on earth to discover the marvelous poems of Mary Oliver,
but just in case there is one other person out there who hasn't, here's a glowing
review of these two collections. Oliver has a deep understanding of nature, and
deftly avoids the "plant-eaters good, meat-eaters bad" anthropomorphism
of lesser voices. Her poems are populated by owls, crows, flowers, streams, herons,
and snakes that go swinging through grass like old swords. But enough from me;
all I can say is get these two collections and let your soul drink deeply. I'll
just let Oliver speak for herself.
From New and Selected Poems: Volume One:
In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.
The kookaburras, kingfishers, pressed against the edge of
their cage, they asked me to open the door.
Years later I wake in the night and remember how I said to them,
no, and walked away.
They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
They didn't want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
home to their river.
By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
As for myself, I am not yet the god of even the palest flowers.
Nothing else has changed either.
Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.
Excerpt from "Vultures"
Like large dark
butterflies they sweep over
the glades looking
to eat it,
to make it vanish,
to make of it the miracle:
resurrection. No one
knows how many
they are who daily
minister so to the grassy
miles, no one
counts how many bodies
and descend to demonstrating
each time the earth's
appetite, the unending
waterfalls of change.
At Blackwater Pond
At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh, what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?
From New and Selected Poems:
Our new dog, named for the beloved poet,
ate a book which unfortunately we had
Fortunately it was the Bhagavad Gita,
of which many copies are available.
Every day now, as Percy grows
into the beauty of his life, we touch
his wild, curly head and say,
"Oh, wisest of little dogs."
Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the new snow
with wild feet.
Running here running there, excited,
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
in large, exuberant letters,
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.
Oh, I could not have said it better
The Poet With His Face in His Hands
You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn't need any more of that sound.
So if you're going to do it and can't
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can't
hold it in, at least go by yourself across
the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets
like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water-fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you
want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched
by the passing foil of the water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.