by Nona Blyth Cloud
Wikipedia tries to sum her up:
Mary Jane Oliver (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 2007 The New York Times described her as “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.”
I missed the first reports of her death. When a poet passes in the U.S., even a national treasure like Mary Oliver, it’s not regarded as headline news. Being “this country’s best-selling poet” doesn’t mean you are a Household Name to most Americans.
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t think they like poetry. Too many of them had bad experiences with poetry in school. I had a bad experience with e.e. cummings, and half-a-dozen prose writers, because of a truly awful English teacher in high school, and didn’t give him another chance until years later, when a friend of mine coaxed me into reading some of her favorite cummings poems. I still have never been able to reclaim George Eliot, because I always hear that awful woman’s voice in my head whenever I try to open Silas Marner or Mill on the Floss.
If ever there was a poet who could overcome the traumas suffered in bad English classes, it was Mary Oliver. Her poems are clear and direct, deceptively simple. She connects us with the natural world with a child’s sense of wonder, and the wisdom of a real grown-up.
Sleeping In The Forest
by Mary Oliver
I thought the earth remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
I hope there is a “something better,” and that Mary Oliver is there now.
“Sleeping in the Forest” from New and Selected Poems, © 1993 by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press