Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings: Poems (New York: Penguin, 2012), 77pp.
Back in 2007 the New York Times described Mary Oliver as "far and away, this country's [America's] best-selling poet." Among her numerous awards, her collection entitled American Primitive (1984) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, while New and Selected Poems (1992) won the National Book Award. A Thousand Mornings is her twenty-first volume of poetry, in addition to eight volumes of prose and then also two audio books. It's a slender collection of thirty-six poems, and as you'd expect, most all of them reflect her love of the natural world.
Oliver is famous for her solitary walks near her home in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and how those walks provide a rich fund of material for her to observe, ponder, and take great joy in the physical creation: "And here you may find me / on almost any morning / walking along the shore so / light-footed so casual" (Tide). There are poems here about the seasons of the year and the rhythm of day and night, about a moth, a mountain, and a mockingbird. For Oliver, to pay attention to nature is to awaken grace and gratitude. Is not the song of the wren a form of prayer (I Happened To Be Standing)? And in another conversation Mr. Fox rebukes her: "You fuss, we live." (Good-Bye Fox).
Nature also provides an opportunity for stillness. In one of my favorites in this volume, Today, she writes:
Today I'm flying low and I'm
not saying a word.
I'm letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the gardening rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I'm traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
We think too much and listen too little. We fret and worry. The newspaper headlines are a cause for shame (The Morning Paper). But bird song and bees, the annual movement from winter darkness to spring time light, remind us of how "the vivacity of what was is married / to the vitality of what will be." (Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness). Oliver's poetry reminds us of the irrepressible goodness of all creation.