Blue Iris, by Mary Oliver


Four stars, read in October 2016.

It’s confirmed; Mary Oliver is one of the rare poets whose work just works for me. I adore her style and her subjects—the scenes in nature, the exquisite detail, the stunning imagery. In both of the collections I’ve read so far, I enjoy every poem, but find two or three that resonate deeply. I love knowing how much more she’s written that I have yet to read. These were my favorites from this collection:

A few lines from Upstream

In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.

Sea Leaves

I walk beside the ocean, then turn and continue walking just beside the first berm, a few yards from the water which is at half tide. Eventually I find what I’m looking for, a plant green and with the flavor of raw salt, and leaves shaped like arrowheads. But before that, down the long shore, I have seen many things: shells, waves, once a pair of whimbrels, gulls and terns over the water, rabbits long-legging it through the thickets above the berm. I kneel and pick among the green leaves, not taking all of any plant but a few leaves from each, until my knapsack is filled. Keep your spinach; I’ll have this. Then I stroll home. I’ll cook the leaves briefly; M. and I will eat some and put the rest into the freezer, for winter. The only thing I don’t know is, should the activity of this day be called labor, or pleasure?

Lines from Goldenrod

For myself,
I was just passing by, when the wind flared
and the blossoms rustled,
and the glittering pandemonium

leaned on me.
I was just minding my own business
when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
citron and butter-colored,

and was happy, and why not?
Are not the difficult labors of our lives
full of dark hours?
And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?

White Flowers

Last night
in the fields
I lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms.
I don’t know
how it happened—
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt so near
that porous line
where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers

5 Comments Add yours

  1. lghiggins says:

    I agree. The portions you shared are exquisite!


  2. Jan Hicks says:

    I love White Flowers. I hadn’t encountered Mary Oliver before. I just read another one on Poetry Foundation, called Death at a Great Distance. She has a wonderful eye for detail and a gorgeous turn of phrase.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gwen says:

    My favorite of hers is called Wild Geese; my other blog is actually named after it, both the URL and the title of the blog. I discovered the poem during my transition out of religion, and it became really important to me.


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