Mary Oliver, the American poet, died on 17 January 2019. Although celebrated in the USA, she is less well known in Great Britain. Although some may find her poems a little sentimental or too straightforward, for me they contain some of the big issues that we really grapple with in life.
Like most of Oliver’s poetry, Summer Day celebrates the natural world and perhaps strikes a chord with many who yearn to become reconnected to nature and the simpler things in life. Oliver also shows joy in taking the time out to enjoy leisure and to be idle, something that we increasingly struggle with in today’s fast-paced world.
On another level, the poem encourages us to consider the purpose of our very existence and to acknowledge our mortality. In Summer Day, Oliver exhorts us to face up to death by reminding us that life is wonderous and precious. She also invites us to explore the meaning in our life by asking us what we plan to do with ours. For existential counsellors such as Irvin Yalom and Victor Frankl, death and life’s meaning (or perhaps meaninglessness) represent two of the main causes of anxiety and reasons for dissatisfaction with our lives. If these issues are troubling you, please feel free to get in touch.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?