Friday, January 18, 2019

Mary Oliver, RIP

The poet Mary Oliver died on Thursday at the age of eighty-three.  The New York Times obituary addresses her poetry, her popularity among readers and the way critics have disagreed about the quality of her poems.

My favorite is The Forest, part of a longer poem, published in her New And Selected Poems. Volume One.  I believe that it reflects

...that what lay beneath her work’s seemingly unruffled surface was a dark, brooding undertow, which together with the surface constituted a cleareyed exploration of the individual’s place in the cosmos.

The Forest

At night
under the trees
the black snake
jellies forward
the stems of the bloodroot,
the yellow leaves,
little boulders of bark,
to take off
the old life.
I don't know
if he knows
what is happening
I don't know
if he knows
it will work.
In the distance
the moon and the stars
give a little light.
In the distance
the owl cries out.

In the distance
the owl cries out.
The snake knows
these are the owl's woods,
these are the woods of death,
these are the woods of hardship
where you crawl and crawl,
where you live in the husks of trees,
where you lie on the wild twigs
and they cannot bear your weight,
where life has no purpose
and is neither civil nor intelligent.

Where life has no purpose,
and is neither civil nor intelligent,
it begins
to rain,
it begins
to smell like the bodies
of flowers.
At the back of the neck
the old skin splits.
The snake shivers
but does not hesitate.
He inches forward.
He begins to bleed through like satin.