Every once in a while a poem is able to articulate a feeling or thought in a profound, emotional way that would never have occurred to me. I’m not a big reader of poetry and a lot of it is incomprehensible to me, so this doesn’t happen to me often. But I’m always hopeful. So, when I saw Narfna’s review of Felicity (2015) by Mary Oliver, I was intrigued. The promise of a short book with meaningful, understandable poems sounded fantastic. I also liked the poems that she included in her review, which was a good sign.
I had not heard of Mary Oliver before, but she has an impressive resume with both a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. She also died just last year after a battle with lung cancer. I was impressed by Oliver’s book, and I was definitely able to pick out some favorites.
My favorites include: (this is just a list with a description or a couple of my favorite lines, but not the whole poem–except for “Humility”)
“This Morning” (39) – a simple story about redbird chicks hatching, but I loved the idea of optimism and possibility that comes with the miracle of the beginning of their lives.
Poems arrive ready to begin
Poets are only the transportation
“Storage” (31) – a nice minimalist point of view
“For the birds who own nothing–the reason they can fly.”
“A House, or a Million Dollars” (71)
Love is the one thing the heart craves
and love is the one thing
you can’t steal
“I Don’t Want to Lose” (73)
I don’t want to lose a single thread
from the intricate brocade of this happiness.
However, there were a number of times when the poems were more uncomfortable than relatable. Maybe I do better when reading poems about pain and loss, but sometimes Oliver was just a little too happy and confident for me.
For example, in “Moments” (9) she talks about “moments that cry out to be fulfilled” like “telling someone you love them” or “giving your money away, all of it.” The last paragraph finishes with “There is nothing more pathetic than caution.” I guess I’m pathetic then, because those choices do not sound appealing to me in the least. I wish this poem spoke to me in an inspiring way, but it really just makes me uncomfortable.
Similarly, “I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly” (51) seems to be about falling quickly into a loving relationship. It’s a romantic idea, but I couldn’t quite jump on board. Maybe I’m just cynical, but the relationships where I’ve fallen fast and did not do much thinking were not particularly great. The relationship I’m in now I’m being very cautious–perhaps too cautious, but in many ways it feels better than those where I’ve been entranced with my significant other.
Now that I’m writing about my discomfort with these poems, I kind of appreciate that Oliver is able to make me uneasy–especially when it comes to parts of my life where I’ve probably built up some walls. I’m definitely not throwing caution to the wind, but it gives me something to think about.
I’d recommend this book to those who enjoy poetry or want to try reading a book of poems that are meaningful without being too intimidating.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.