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A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver is meditative observance, but also a collection of poems full of praise not only of the natural order but of humanity’s place in that order.  In “And Bob Dylan Too,” she talks of how the shepherds sing as the sheep praise the grass by eating it and how the bees’ hum signals the opening of spring blossoms.  And in many ways, nature comes to life, becomes anthropomorphized in conversation with a narrator, allowing for the unspoken rules to be broken and/or expanded.  Oliver has a deep sense of connection to the natural world that shines through in each line of each poem, and yet, there is a bit of rebellion in her poems that points to a time when breaking free of the natural order is not only OK, but unexpected and inspiring.

From "Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness" (page 27):

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don't say
it's easy, but
what else will do

What readers will love about Oliver’s poetry is the homage she pays to the natural world in all its beauty, but also the connect we have to it. In “The Moth, the Mountains, the Rivers,” the narrator of the poems asks that we each take the time to live in awe of the wonders around us, to truly sit without worry about the busy schedule and to just be and observe. It is almost a plea of sorts.  In other poems, the narrator simply marvels at nature and even decides to take her home to a mountaintop for silence and reflection and invites the reader along.  But one of the most descriptive and captivating poems in the collection was “Tides,” about the movement of the ocean and the only purpose it has: to be.  Unlike those who talk of its erosion of beaches and its awesome power, Oliver focuses in on its rhythmic movement, its constancy, and its beauty and in this way draws a parallel to how the narrator casually, calmly walks the beach.

A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver is reflective of the past, of youth, and of wilder days, but it also is about recapturing that youth, if only in the mind, remembrance, and observance of nature.  But there are moments of distinct action and conviction that the past can be recaptured even if it is at the end of life.  For those looking for Oliver’s traditional poetry, this collection is ripe with observation of the natural world, but it also offers a deeper look at aging and longing for things that have passed.

About the Poet:

Mary Oliver was in Maple Heights, Ohio.  As a teenager, she lived briefly in the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay, where she helped Millay’s family sort through the papers the poet left behind.  In the mid-1950s, Oliver attended both Ohio State University and Vassar College, though she did not receive a degree.

Her first collection of poems, No Voyage, and Other Poems, was published in 1963. Since then, she has published numerous books, including Thirst (Beacon Press, 2006); Why I Wake Early (2004); Owls and Other Fantasies : Poems and Essays (2003); Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999); West Wind (1997); White Pine (1994); New and Selected Poems (1992), which won the National Book award; House of Light (1990), which won the Christopher Award and the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award; and American Primitive (1983), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

This is my 4th book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

  • Glad you enjoyed it. I love nature, but I’m not a big fan of nature poems. However, this sounds like one that would be interesting to peruse from time to time.

  • So glad this one was special for you.

    • I really think Oliver’s poems are a good place to start for beginning readers.

  • This sounds like a beautiful book of poetry. I love anything that takes you back to nature and realizing what’s really important.

    • I really enjoyed this collection.

  • Ti

    I love poetry that is inspired or focused on nature.

    • You should check this out!

  • Ali

    I love Mary Oliver. She writes with such a great balance between the internal self and the external natural world.

    • This is one of those collections where I would say it is the most balanced I’ve seen in terms of internal and external.