(Welcoming) Mary Oliver’s “Spring”

As this space reflected on upon her death just over two years ago, Mary Oliver was at once among our most celebrated and accessible poets. Oliver was (and remains) the darling of a certain kind of spiritually inclined nature lover who revels in the unfettered ecstasy of being in the great outdoors, often alone, breathing deeply of chill morning air, much more inclined to be gazing slack-jawed under a cathedral of trees than sitting in church pews. (And if it were the latter, it would have to be Unitarian Universalists or lefty Christians rather than Garrison Keillor-style Lutherans, and it would be the late service, after the morning’s tramp though the woods…)

Despite the imprimatur of a Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and a National Book Award eight years later, Oliver had her critics. Her basic theme—“Oh, how I love this world, read this and get out there and love it, too!”—was expressed in rhapsodic-but-straight-ahead language, with imagery that required readers only to revel in appreciation rather than consult dictionaries or learned tomes on Norse mythology.

For this, she was often ignored by the academy and periodicals whose editors preferred their poetry more opaque and literary. That in no way meant, though, that she was a simpleton writing best-selling drivel for the masses ala Rod McKuen.

But her relentless and deep absorption into the natural world as a poet of ecstasy did allow her to do much better than most poets in the marketplace, and she lived frugally enough in the woods outside Provincetown, Massachusetts with her lifelong partner, the photographer Molly Malone, to mostly stick to her regimen of hiking, intently observing, and writing.

Oliver never much cottoned to interviews, and would surely have fled in terror if she were ever approached by the booking agent for Stephen Colbert, et al.

So here we are, early spring, Easter Sunday, creeping on tentatively toward post-Pandemica, post-Trumplandia, still masking up to go into the nursery for our April plantings but daring to hope now, truly, for a big, steadying, and richly appreciated dose of normal.

Rising from this long sleep/nightmare, we are perhaps ready at last to hike down our respective mountains with the bears and sheep and foxes and all other of God’s (and St. Mary’s) chillun’, “like a red fire touching the grass,” offering an uncomplicated answer to the one question that drove every Mary Oliver poem and often appeared explicitly in them in one framing or other, as it does in this one below: “Are you ready to love the world?”





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Deep appreciation to the photographers! Unless otherwise stated, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing.

Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos (except for the books) grace the rotating banner at top of page.

Library books photo by Larry Rose, all rights reserved, contact: larry@rosefoto.com

Flower by Andrew Hidas  https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/

Black bear by George Lamson  https://www.flickr.com/photos/lamsongf/

8 comments to (Welcoming) Mary Oliver’s “Spring”

  • karen malin  says:

    In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach, in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.
    Rachel Carson

    This poem reminded me of another writer who embraced the wonder and challenge of the natural world! Thanks for another thoughtful and soul soothing post!

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Thanks, Karen; I actually have not read much of Ms. Carson, avatar of the environment that she was. Appreciate you putting that bug in my ear!

  • Dennis J Ahern  says:

    I learned to appreciate M.O. from a yoga teacher who would always have something inspirational to read at the end of class, and would often read her. It would send us off on the good foot. I have not been to a class in over a year. I got my second dose yesterday and sitting eating breakfast, the peach tree outside is in full bloom. Spring feels particularly welcome this year, as if I have risen from a long and troubling sleep.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      I must say I was surprised, in a very good way, at the psychological injection of relief, hope, renewal, resurrection, whathaveyou, that accompanied the needle stick, Dennis. Had been looking forward to it and was delighted to get it done early, but didn’t expect quite the impact that it had. I wish you all the same & more—including reconnecting in the actual proximity of that yoga teacher and your respective mats…

      • Dennis J Ahern  says:

        I got the call three weeks ago saying that there was unused vaccine for me if I could come right down. I was unprepared for the upwelling of emotion as I drove to the clinic. Not exactly the last chopper out of Saigon, but something like it.

        • Andrew Hidas  says:

          Ha ha, yes, more or less my experience too, getting a call late Saturday night that if we got ourselves to a rural county an hour up the road by 8 a.m. the next morning and put our arms out, good things would happen. Was part of that chaotic rollout left over from the Trump (Dis)Organization, methinks, so in that respect, your allusion to choppers out of Saigon is more apt than you give yourself credit for!

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    Critics penalize the pleasant images of populist poets like Mary Oliver. Critics cringe over stanzas filled with an abundance of alluring alliteration. Critics fawn over the inaccessibility of subtle symbolism and archaic language. Yet…most people prefer sunflowers to Helianthus annuus. After the freeze here in Texas, crowds are flocking to nurseries to replenish their dead gardens with new life as Claire and I’ve been doing for the past two weeks. There’s no doubt Mary Oliver suits spring better than T.S. Eliot. After all, didn’t one of them refer to April as the cruelest month?

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Critics can’t careen clear of capitulation, Robert, when it comes to Mary Oliver, though they persist in their pusillanimous petulance. (Oh man, this is exhausting…)

      Interesting you should mention Eliot—every year at this time one of my ancient posts on him & “The Wasteland” gets a lot of renewed attention via Google searches, which suggests to me that there are two kinds of people in this world: people of the resurrection (Mary Oliver) and people of the crucifixion (Eliot). They duke it out every April, between Good Friday and Easter, to what looks to be more or less a standstill, and isn’t that the story of the world? Take a look if you have a few minutes and you feel “up” for some very deep brooding: http://andrewhidas.com/reading-t-s-eliots-the-wasteland-on-good-friday/

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