Poetry Wednesday – Mary Oliver


am prim

One of the many goals of poetry is elevate the ordinary into something more.  It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest powers of poetry and something that I look for most when I read.  I think one of the more successful poets at elevating the ordinary is Mary Oliver.  Here is an example:


The oaks shone
gaunt gold
on the lip
of the storm before
the wind rose,
the shapeless mouth
opened and began
its five-hour howl;
the lights
went out fast, branches
sidled over
the pitch of the roof, bounced
into the yard
that grew black
within minutes, except
for the lightning – the landscape
bulging forth like a quick
lesson in creation, then
thudding away.  Inside,
as always,
it was hard to tell
fear from excitement:
how sensual
the lightning’s
poured stroke!  and still,
what a fire and a risk!
As always the body
wants to hide,
wants to flow toward it – strives
to balance while
fear shouts,
excitement shouts, back
and forth – each
bolt a burning river
tearing like escape through the dark
field of the other.

“Lightning” is a poem that describes a natural event, elevating the ordinary occasion of a summer storm, into something extraordinary through verse.  She also addresses the human urge to capture lightning, while still being afraid of it.  I’m really admiring Mary Oliver at the moment, because after about six months of writing about the Big Issues, it’s time to write about something else.  Something simpler, something beautiful and ordinary.   For now, I’m going to read and enjoy Mary Oliver’s American Primitive and learn from the delicate nature she describes.


5 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday – Mary Oliver

  1. I have a friend that just adores her poems…I have one of her books and love going back to reread her poems and their images. She has a way with words that makes you stop and reassess.

    Great post.

  2. there was an oil sheik from oman
    who said ‘oh man, that hurt, never shall I have any spawn!’
    but alas!
    his fatness was beautiful and cushioned his fall.

  3. Oo I’m going to check out more of her poems! I find I’m also drawn to poems about simpler themes that are “elevated” as you say! Thanks for posting this!

  4. Good poem! I agree with you — poetry is best when it takes something familiar and makes it into something more by forcing the reader to think about it more than they normally would. I liked this one for that quality.

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