As regular readers of our book reviews already know, we can't get enough of the exquisite poetry of Mary Oliver. She tutors us in the art of long-looking, opens our eyes to the wonders and mysteries that abound in the natural world, and relishes animals and all the enchantments that come with being in their presence. There is a devotional quality to her poems that brings a hush to our minds and demands silent attention. The words mesmerize us and suddenly we find ourselves bewitched by the delicious joy and delight of her poetry.
This long awaited collection to New and Selected Poems: Volume One (for which Oliver won the National Book Award) contains forty-two new poems as well as sixty-nine from six of her last eight books poems that she herself selected.
One of our favorites from the new batch is a poem called "Everything," whose last five lines read:
I want to make poems
that look into the earth and heavens
and see the unseeable. I want them to honor
both the heart of faith, and the light of the world;
the gladness that say, without any words, everything.
What a resource to have a poet with a spiritual perspective trying "to see the unseeable." Throughout her long and illustrious career, Oliver has been peering into the mysteries that undergird our experiences of nature. She has come up with images that speak to the heart of faith and the light of the world. Gladness is a word that grows naturally out of her perspective. For instance, we reveled in her poem "Percy (One)" where her dog gobbles up a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, and from then on is honored with the words: "Oh, wisest of little dogs."
Courtesy always plays a large role in the poetry of Oliver. A deep example of this spiritual practice shows up in the poem "In Praise of Craziness of a Certain Kind":
On cold evenings
with ownership of half her mind
the other half having flown back to Bohemia
spread newspapers over the porch floor
so, she said, the garden ants could crawl beneath,
as under a blanket, and keep warm,
and what shall I wish for, for myself,
but, being so struck by the lightning of years,
to be like her with what is left, that loving.
These are just a few of the new poems we especially enjoyed. The rest of the book contains many more gems sure to stretch your soul and gently nudge you out of your house into the wild world of wonders, where animals and plants and minerals wave gleefully in your presence. Be courteous, let your attention be a prayer, and above all open your heart to the beauty and the abundance and the grace that are there to be savored.