This paperback by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver is a seven-part book-length poem. The author of more than ten volumes of poetry and prose can always be depended upon to open us up afresh to the beauty and the mystery of the world. She is a long looker one of those ambassadors of nature who conveys all the abounding wonders of fish and fowl, plant and landscape. And then there is Oliver's companionable voice one that draws us into empathy and sympathy with rocks, trees, rabbits, and wrens. Everything has its own song to sing and this poet teaches us how to be good listeners.
The Leaf and the Cloud begins with a quotation from John Ruskin about the human adventure. And later there is an excerpt from Plato. But the real informing presence here is Walt Whitman. In "Flare," Oliver says of the poem: "It wants to open itself, / like the door of a little temple, / so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed, / and less yourself than part of everything." Yes, come to the temple and connect with the natural world. Later, Oliver notes, "A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world." Cherish all that surrounds you. Let it seep into your senses.
"Work" begins with "I am a woman sixty years old and of no special courage. / Everyday a little conversation with God, or his envoy / the tall pine, or the grass-swimming cricket." The poet's work is doxological giving thanks for all the glories, lifting up and celebrating the "deliberate music" of rocks, ears of corn, and the river. And then there's the chorus: "I will sing for the salt and pepper in their little towers / on the clean table. / I will sing for the rabbit that has crossed our yard / in the moonlight, / stopping twice to stamp the cold ground / with his narrow foot. / . . . I will sing for what is behind the veil / light, light, and more light."
Oliver informs us that she arises at four in the morning "trying to arrange this thick song." We admire how well she looks at things and how deeply she listens to all that summons her. In her seven-part poem, she also ponders death, grief, memory, soul, and fear. We love the sacramental quality that shadows every word and image. Near the end: "alleluiah alleluiah / sighs the pale green moth / on the screen door." Yes, Oliver takes us to the temple, refreshes our exhausted spirit, and leaves us sighing with a green moth our own paean of gratitude for God and this great wondrous earth adventure.