"Flowers and fruits are always fit presents; flowers because they are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world," Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in "Gifts." Mary Oliver, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, has chosen this thought-provoking observation as a prelude to her fourteenth collection of poems and essays. Her intention is to pay tribute to flowers and plants. If you number these beings as your friends, dipping into any page of this book will be nothing less than a sheer delight. If you love to brighten up a room with flowers or flirt with them when no one is looking, you will identify with Oliver's enchantment with these festive beings who are in such profusion at weddings and christenings. And if you have ever taken a course on Japanese flower arrangement, you will be able to savor the odd angles and the perfect words that the poet uses to describe flowers and plants as bringers of beauty into our lives
Oliver is enthralled by "Black Oaks": "But to tell the truth after a while I'm pale with longing / for their thick bodies ruckled with lichen." She marvels in "Goldenrod" how these "sneeze-bringers" are able to give their gold away. Then in "Spring" the poet looks here and there and finds herself grateful for violets who expend all their time in happiness, "in becoming the best they can be." In "Freshen the Flowers, She Said," we get the message that performing this kindness can be an act of grace. The poet addresses some salt roses, "sweetness pure and simple," and asks permission to join them in the sand. Blue Iris is a splendid collection of poems and essays.