In this collection of 43 new poems, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver continues to tutor us in the art of long-looking and relishing all the enchantments of the natural world. She listens to finches speak of light and delight, she marvels at the eyes of a snake she startles, she opens to the transformation of a worm into a moth, and she savors the gladness that comes over her when she is among trees. Long time fans of Oliver will appreciate seven poems that revolve around the wonderful world of Percy the dog.
But there is something new afoot in these poems, an explicit Christian emphasis. We catch a hint of it in "The Beautiful, Striped Sparrow" where Oliver tells us that she "hums the hymns / I used to sing" as she walks through empty fields. In "Praying," the poet struggles with patching some words together in praise, then realizes the point in any devotional exercise is to make a space for grace to speak. That seems to be the intent of "Coming to God: First Days" and "The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church: The Eucharist" where this sacrament mediates many meanings and blessings. Our favorite among these faith-based poems is "Making the House Ready for the Lord."
Oliver has been mourning the loss of her long-time companion and there are a number of poems that honor this slow, deliberate, and healing process. One of the best is "A Pretty Song" where she notes: "From the complications of loving you / I think there is no end or return. / No answer, no coming out of it." Oliver acknowledges her "sudden, sullen, dark moods / that hold you in the center of my world." Of course, the process of grief compels the poet to consider afresh her own death and the ephemeral nature of all living things.
In the first poem in the book, "Messenger," Oliver says "My work is loving the world." And it is a pleasure to note that she does that work well in all these poems.