Category Archives: Oliver (Mary)

Pesticides vs. Sweetness and Wings

Monarch butterflies and bees are in grave danger. Poems by Scott Bates and Mary Oliver remind us what we will lose if we don’t move to protect them.

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The Peace of Wild Things

My Intro to Literature class explored how a disconnect from nature leads to existential anguish while opening themselves up to nature provides spiritual nourishment.

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Hunkering Down in Hard Times

When your side loses in an election, be like Mary Oliver’s blue heron: hunker down, absorb the blows, and keep the fire of hope burning.

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Something Different Crosses the Threshold

Mary Oliver gives a powerful reading of Jesus calming the storm.

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Blossoms Storm out of the Darkness

A perfect May poem from Mary Oliver.

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Seahawks: Unleashed, Endlessly Hungry

Mary Oliver’s poem about hunting hawks about sums up last night’s Super Bowl.

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Poem for Coping with Depression

Mary Oliver’s “Poem for a Blue Heron” is a hopeful but realistic poem about coping with depression.

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What Extreme Cold Teaches Us

As Coleridge and Mary Oliver teach us, when we are trapped in extreme cold, we come to value life.

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How to Make Your Dull Life Seem Magical

Does your life seem one long grind? Let Mary Oliver help you see it differently?

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On Loving and Letting Go

Mary Oliver’s “In Blackwater Woods” instructs us in how to live and how to die.

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In Solitary Others We See Ourselves

When a Maine hermit is arrested after 27 years in solitude, we project our stories upon him.

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Your One Wild and Precious Life

Mary Oliver’s celebration of summer is a prayer operates as a prayer of gratitude.

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Dare to Be Happy, Dare to Pray

Mary Oliver finds hope even for those weighed down by the thorn of depression.

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My Father in the Hospital

A Mary Oliver poems captures my fears about my father, currently hospitalized.

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A Breathing Palace of Leaves

Many of Mary Oliver’s nature poems enact a version of the crucifixion and resurrection.

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First Snowfall, A Moment of Grace

For Mary Oliver, the season’s first snow fall raises existential questions and then answers them in its own way.

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Autumn’s Subterranean Mysteries

Oliver’s “Fall Song” captures the “rich spiced residues” of autumn.

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The Rain Falls Soft as the Fall of Moccasins

Describing the slaughter of the buffalo herds by whites, Mary Oliver draws on Sioux religion to imagine them as not altogether gone.

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The Silver Water Crushes Like Silk

Although not explicitly religious, Mary Oliver has a Good Friday-Resurrection progression in many of her poems, including “Morning at Great Pond.”

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Far Off the Bells Rang through the Morning

Mary Oliver finds Easter holiness in a new born fawn.

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Such Singing in the Wild Branches

On a beautiful spring morning when she is startled by birdsong, Mary Oliver describes a merging with nature where she “began to understand what the bird was saying.”

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The Black Honey of Summer

My son’s marriage proposal to his Trinidadian girlfriend has become bound up in my mind with a Mary Oliver poem about blackberries.

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Nothing So Sensible as Sensual Inundation

Poetry, with its eye on what really matters, can help us taste food again. Mary Oliver’s “Plum Trees” reminds us to eat with full awareness.

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I Weep for Adonais–He Is Dead

When W. B. Yeat died on January 28, 1939, a despondent W. H. Auden wrote, “The day of his death was a dark cold day,” an instance of how we look to the weather for confirmation of our distress. The idea of a dying friend slipping away without leaving a trace is an unsettling one. Much better if the weather functions as a second witness, which it seems to do if it metaphorically expresses how we feel. When my good friend Alan Paskow died on Tuesday, I latched on to the fact that the day began with a tornado alert and that we were lashed by slashing rain for much of the morning.

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Pretty Is Not What Blazes the Trail

As the ice (or “iron rind”) starts dissolving from the ponds, we may dream of “ferns and flowers and new leaves unfolding.” But the transition from winter to spring is a much grittier affair, characterized less by sweetness and more by lurid smells emerging from chilling mud. The real harbinger of spring may not be the bluebird but the skunk cabbage, celebrated by Mary Oliver in a powerful poem.

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A Place of Parched and Broken Trees

My friend Alan Paskow is finally dying. The poem that comes to mind is Mary Oliver’s “Universal Hospital, Boston.” All around nature is thriving, a contrast with the clean antiseptic rooms within the hospital. The contrast shows up as well in the patient’s eyes, which “are sometimes green and sometimes gray,/and sometimes full of humor, but often not.”

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From Spiritual Hunger to Obesity Epidemic

Spiritual Sunday My wife Julia has been telling me about a book that she’s reading, Geneen Roth’s Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. The thesis of the book seems to be that overeating, like other compulsions and obsessions, is a means of escaping a spiritual emptiness. Or to put it another […]

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Stepping over Every Dark Thing

John James Audubon, White Egret If life seems hard at the moment, I have a poem that may lift you up: Mary Oliver’s “Egrets.” Oliver is, if not the most popular poet writing in America today, at least among the top five. Her poems often function as prayers to a divine spirit running through nature. In […]

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Poetry in the Face of Death

  Because of my concerns over my friend Alan and his cancer, I will spend another week looking at the role that poetry can play as we confront death and dying. Today’s entry describes how poetry made its way into my life following the death of my son Justin, described in last week’s opening entry […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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