Nature’s Brutality in the Poetry of Mary Oliver

Posted by Sustainable OKC | Posted in Books, Kristen McCarty, Poetry, Religion | Posted on 20-10-2008

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by Kristen McCarty

"That God had a plan, I do not doubt.
But what if his plan was, that we would do better?"
                                    -Mary Oliver

In Mary Oliver's world of words and visions, Mother Nature is no comforting dowager. Brutal and at times devastating, nature in all her forms is as dangerous as it is inspiring, but that doesn't keep the poet from being fiercely protective of it.

Instead of trying to explain away the harsh realities of life as many poets and theologians have done before her, Oliver marvels at the fittest, who survive, and the death of their fallen prey. Admiring the lives of both predator and prey, she wrestles with which one she should feel sympathy for. Always present in her poems is the pull to understand a multitude of perspectives, which is a poet's highest work. We read poetry for many reasons, but to read Mary Oliver is to discover new idea after new idea, beautifully and originally phrased. These ideas change the way we think about ourselves and creation—enhancing the complexity of things often oversimplified.

She maintains that even in places of death, and aging, and destruction in the natural world, God whispers of transcendence and meaning. Loneliness and even helplessness are places where God keeps watch. Perhaps the state of our minds and souls, mirrors the state of Nature itself. We are hurt, misguided, lied-to and lying, we seem to be diminishing even as we rise, and all of this is a place where God waits for us to step forth—doing the right and holy thing for ourselves and others and the world around us.

Nature, who both hurts and heals, full of places in the wild where the beautiful crying forth of the ideas of God suffuses every moment. Lucky for us, the poet transcribes some of these ideas for us in her writing, but in Mary Oliver's world, the greatest crime against God would be to neglect to live and appreciate the natural world around us.