Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Thirst by Mary Oliver

According to Wikipedia quoting the New York Times (for whatever that's worth) Mary Oliver is America's best-selling poet.  So, yes. I am woefully under read in the poetry department--I'd never heard of her.  But let me tell you, she's great!  And I didn't even read the collection that won her the Pulitzer!  (That would be American Primitive published in 1984, for those of you who are wondering.)

In Thirst, Oliver is grappling with the death of her partner of over forty years.  Somehow during the mourning process, she finds meaning in the faith of her youth and looks to the passion of Christ to help her navigate her grief.  Since she typically writes in a fashion often likened to Thoreau, her journey to Christ takes us through the natural world, as in "The Beautiful, Striped Sparrow"

In the afternoons,
in the almost empty fields,
I hum the hymns
I used to sing

in church.
They could not tame me,
so they would not keep me,

and how that feels,
the weight of it,
I will not tell
any of you,

not ever.
Still, as they promised,
God, once he is in your heart,
is everywhere--

so even here
among the weeds
and the brisk trees.
How long does it take

to hum a hymn?

Read the rest here.

She doesn't hold back when examining the sadness she feels, as seen in "Heavy":

That time 
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent, 
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.

Read the rest here.

I don't touch upon faith much on this blog because it is just so personal, but I really liked this collection and plan to read more Mary Oliver.

<I checked this book out of my library.>


  1. I love Oliver's poems. They are so accessible and powerful.

    1. I found that to be true, too. I need to find more of her work.

  2. I read a lot of Mary Oliver's poetry when my son was dying. She was able to put words to the emotions that choked me to silence.

    I still find peace in reading her poetry. Thank you for sharing these pieces.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I have never heard of her before either...

    1. That's why I LOVE this poetry event, I'm discovering so many great poets! Thanks for co-hosting!

  4. I discovered Mary Oliver in college and she's still one of my favorite poets (ahem...even though I didn't mention her in my post today :)). But really I don't know if I've ever read a poem by her, that is bad.

    1. I'm glad to hear that she is consistently good!

  5. I liked those two sample very much, I'll have to look her up. I've never heard of her either. kaye—the road goes ever ever on

    1. So many great poets out there--I feel like I'll never catch up.

  6. Those are lovely poems. I love Mary Oliver's work, especially American Primitive. Thank you for participating this month!

    1. Thank YOU for co-hosting this event. I'm having a blast participating!

  7. I have posted quite a few of her poems on the blog, and always people are very moved. She is so, so wonderful. If you want to read some, you can click on the poems tab under the blog header photo and scroll down to her name. I really love her work.

  8. Thank you! Those are gorgeous and I loved the photos you paired with them, particularly the poppies and the bleeding heart plant. The poem about the black walnut tree--so good!

  9. What have you been reading lately? I'm requesting another post!