A Thousand Mornings was my first real approach to Mary Oliver’s poetry. I can only say I’m eager to read more of her poems. This was one of her lasts books, published in 2012, but I believe it exemplifies many of the key aspects and qualities of her work.
If I had to use a word to describe this book it would be ‘simplicity’. The poems in this collection celebrate nature and especially those aspects of it –birdsongs, water running, waves and wind, how our dogs welcome us home — that might escape our attention in everyday life. Oliver’s poems reflect the loving indifference with which nature welcomes us. It might sound like a paradox, but what is more soothing than remembering the world could and will go on without us?
Virginia Woolf wrote in one of her novels: “When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to matter very much, do they?”, and I couldn’t help thinking about this quote when reading A Thousand Mornings. Yes, life could and will go on without you, but only because you’re an importan part of something bigger and greater than yourself, Mary Oliver reminds us. It is indeed easy to forget to look at the stars when one is busy with other social and cultural duties, but it is essential to remember the basic, the simple, the intuitive and the primitive.
“I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.”Mary Oliver, “I go down to the shore”
The poems in this little book are a call to pay attention and renew the bonds we have with the world we inhabit. Oliver continues the great tradition of North American poetry which celebrates nature and the self, as did Whitman and Emerson before; she sings to the wild self, the untamed part of us which still hears a song in the river’s current and understands the unspoken pacts of the wilderness. Some poems in the book also dwell on self-acceptance and letting oneself be, which is another way of heeding the call of the wild, an hymn against repression.
“I try to be good but sometimes
a person just has to break out and
act like the wild and springy thing
one used to be. It’s impossible not
to remember wild and want it back.”-Mary Oliver, “Green, Green is My Sister’s House”
There are many kinds of poetry and the kind that heals, like Mary Oliver’s does, is perhaps the most needed in our times. It was delightful to read this book, like finding a book one has read long ago and discovering some of it is remembered.