“A Thousand Mornings,” Mary Oliver


People often shy away from poetry, thinking it’s too complicated, saying that they just don’t get it. Worse: that it’s boring or old. Fair enough. I can’t say it’s for everyone. But, I am a firm believer that any avid reader who decries poetry just hasn’t read the right poems yet.

In Mary Oliver’s A Thousand Mornings, we see the space in which traditional poetic themes are gracefully met by modern sentiments and feelings.

“I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.”

I Go Down to the Shore, p. 1.

The first poem in the collection sets up several major themes that continue throughout the entire book. Oliver is inspiringly mindful in her writing. Hers is the type of poetry that makes me want to write my own, to access things beyond and within myself the way she does, because she makes it seem effortless.

Many of the poems hearken back to classic nature and pastoral poetic styles. When she speaks of nature, she is also speaking of herself. This isn’t new territory in poetry. However, philosophically these poems have more to say. Oliver has more to say. The sea—however lovely—rejected her yearning for answers. Upon my second reading, I saw this time and time again throughout the collection. Oliver’s poetry speaks to her incredible awareness of the natural world, how much she observes and how every bird, breeze, and bee has a life and implications all its own. Nature is not conscious of us, but we are very conscious of it. However unrequited humanity’s connection to nature may be, it ultimately doesn’t invalidate that connection in any way. Life mirrors life. For Oliver, nature, though independent of her, is a source of meaning, a glimpse of the sublime.

Oliver’s writing lives and breathes and rests gently as dew. It’s a refreshing change from most of the poetry I read in college, with entire semesters devoted to Wordsworth and Shakespeare. They are incredible poets and obviously worth studying, but they wrote poetry that was, in many ways, not inclusive to all. They involved historical background, an understanding of poetic forms and functions, and research. Oliver’s poetry reads like open arms, easily embracing any reader. Her writing is pure, earnest, and exposed. She delves inward and outward and elegantly weaves her observations, her poetic hypotheses seamlessly, without the excess of centuries old verse. Her writing has all the honesty of confessional poetry, and all the timelessness of fables.

A Thousand Mornings is a testament to the fact that poetry can be, at once, beautiful and raw. It’s difficult to capture all of my impressions of the collection in one post, as each poem had its own voice and topic. This has been my first blog post about a book of poetry, in honor of World Poetry Day, and I’m only just now finding my footing. I’m used to writing lengthy papers unraveling two or three poems for pages upon pages, not to condensing my thoughts on dozens of poems into 500 or so words. But poetry is important, and contrary to what many believe, is still relevant today. It’s worth celebrating. It always will be.


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