Mary Oliver and Her Wise Connection to the Natural World
Mary Oliver was such a natural born poet that she started writing by the young age of 14, eventually winning the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 2007. And the New York Times said of her “that she was by far this country’s best selling poet. But Oliver was first and foremost nature’s most prominent post modern poet.
She grew up in the semi rural Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, Ohio and was by and large a lover of the great outdoors. Born to Edward William and Helen Oliver on September 10, 1935, and she described her childhood as being lonely and difficult and her family as dysfunctional, so she felt strongly drawn to the woods outside and escaped into a world of poetry. Nature was her comfort and poetry her retreat Oliver said of her hometown,
It was pastoral, it was nice, it was an extended family.
I don’t know why I feel such an affinity with the
natural world except it was available to me.
Perhaps the sky, the birds and the trees became her “extended family because her own family had emotionally abandoned her. And it’s poems such as The Kitten that shows the poets unique perspective on nature and how she was one woman, as one critic put it, “thar stood on the line between earth and sky…human and animal.”
More amazed than anything
I took the perfectly black
with one large eye
in the center of its small forehead
from the house cat’s bed
and buried it in a field
behind the house.
I suppose I could have given it
to a museum,
I could have called the local
But instead I took it out into the field
and opened the earth
and put it back
saying it was real,
saying, life is infinitely inventive,
saying what other amazements
lie in the dark seed of the earth
lie in the dark seed of the earth, yes,
I think I did right to go out alone
and give it back peacefully, and cover the place
with the reckless blossoms of weeds.
Here, in just plain, ordinary everyday English, Oliver mesmerizes the reader with the wonder of this anomaly of nature while holding the hapless dead creature to the highest standard of dignity, as if it was a human being.
Oliver never finished earning her college degrees at Ohio State University and Vassar University, but at age 17 she paired with Norma Millay to organize the papers of the late Pulitzer Prize winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, no doubt getting a real education on how to write fine poetry. Oliver’s own prize winning book was entitled American Primitive.
Oliver died shortly after being diagnosed with lung cancer on January 17, 2019 at age 83.