Growing up on the hundred acres of my family’s goat farm, I’ve always considered the natural world a key part of my life. Gardening with my mother, four-wheeling through the woods, and late nights in the animal barns all created my deep appreciation for the forces of mother nature.
The late poet Mary Oliver astutely captured these sentiments in her five-decade career. Her writing centered on slowing down, taking a deep breath, and simply observing the world around oneself.
In her lifetime, many criticized the banality of her work. It was not groundbreaking. It was not unique. It was just a little too universal. However, despite these critiques, Oliver was widely considered to be “America’s most beloved poet.” The intensity and intimacy in which she saw the world connected with many in ways they had never expected.
A good summation of her perspective can be found in an excerpt from her poem, “Peonies”. In it she asks:
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into
And exclaiming of their dreariness,
Fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
With their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
To be wild and perfect for a moment, before they
Aaaaaand with that, I’m crying. Between the fast-paced life of the Block Plan, the stress of becoming a real person post-grad, trying to maintain some level of fitness, and still penciling in time to play Mario Kart with my housemates in the evenings, I often struggle to “cherish this humble and silky life.” Our capitalist society places productivity above health and enjoyment. Yet isn’t one of our guaranteed rights in this country “the pursuit of happiness?”
Oliver spanned generations, finding key threads that persist across humanity. In her writings, each individual can find something that speaks to them, something that makes them reevaluate. If according to Plato, “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then Oliver was not only a poet but a catalyst for change.
Personally, Oliver has partially caused a quarter-life crisis. She has made me want to slow down, become a hermit, and simply wander around in the woods with my dogs. As she put it perfectly in “Black Oaks”:
And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists
Of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money,
I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.