Sunday, December 30, 2012

Red Bird by Mary Oliver

This slim book of poetry – recommended by a good friend – contains 61 poems. Until this recommendation, I had never heard of this poet, but I really do appreciate finding another poet who reminds me of my favorite, Billy Collins. Mary Oliver’s Red Bird contains poems with simple language, clear imagery, with profound insights into the human condition.

The best thing I can do is to quote a few of the many favorites I found in the collection, most of which focus on nature. “Of the Empire” has a timely theme:

We will be known as a culture that feared death and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity for the few and cared little for the penury of the many. We will be known as a culture that taught and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke little if at all about the quality of life for people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All the world in our eyes, they will say, was a commodity. And they will say that this structure was held together politically, which it was, and they will say also that our politics was no more than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of the heart, and that the heart, in those days, was small, and hard, and full of meanness. (46).

Some poems have a Zen-like quality. In “Both Worlds,” for instance, Oliver writes,

“I rise from the chair,
I put on my jacket
and leave the house
for that other world –

the first one
the holy one –
where the trees say
nothing the toad says

nothing the dirt
says nothing and yet
what has always happened
keeps happening:

the trees flourish
the toad leaps
and out of the silent dirt
the blood-red roses rise.” (51-52)

Many others have a philosophical bent. This short poem packs a lot into six lines. “I Ask Percy How I Should Life My Life (Ten)" sums up many of Oliver’s sentiments.

“Love, love, love, says Percy. And run as fast as you can along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep. Give up your body heat, your beating heart. Then trust.” (55)

In the waning days of 2012, this poem takes me back to Christmas weekend -- a mere week ago -- and the honeymoon we never had. Port Aransas, Mustang Island, Padre Island, the gulf, the hotel pool, walks at night and in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening and with quiet dinners alone. How closer can I connect to a poem than that? As I near thoughts of retirement, Oliver and Percy have found the truth: “Love, love, love.”

Mary Oliver’s collection, Red Bird, deserves a read, and a second closer read, and a third, even closer, and a fourth… 5 stars.

--Chiron, 12/30/12

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