5 Stars: Delighted to Read and #Review Mary Oliver’s Felicity: Poems
Cover of Felicity: Poems by Mary Oliver
published in October, 2015
Mary Oliver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award for her poetry several decades ago, has long been one of my favorite poets. If you have not found her poetry, you are missing out on many delights from dozens of publications. Go catch up or start here. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.
She, like Ursula K. Le Guin and many others whose poetry I admire and resonate with, utilizes many of her walks in the natural world to populate and explain her inner experiences and outer relationships.
As I have written before (about to quote myself, here): “Poetry is meant to be read aloud. I enjoy reading poetry aloud as if I am the poet, wondering as I hear each word, line, idea, image, stanza, what the poet was imagining and how this exact turn of phrase came to capture it. Knowing how long many poets take to conjure the precise manner in which to describe and evoke every part of their intention, I want to savor it.
“I do NOT read in that artificial, almost-questioning (upturned inflection on the end of lines), drawling almost-monotone that many poetry readers make the horrible mistake of using.
“I read poetry aloud as if each poem is its own story, because this unique version of that story is interesting, new, and not mine. I use the line breaks and punctuation as suggestions to help me go with the poet’s flow. I smile, I laugh, I pause, I taste the words on my tongue.
“Try it. You’ll like it!”
As I usually do, I marked pages of this book with pieces of scrap paper so I’d remember which stanzas, poems, titles, lines caught my attention. Here are some, in no particular order. I sometimes annotate or explain. Find your own parts to love and for your own reasons.
Moments was so important to me that I gave it to my Cognitive Rehabilitation Therapist on the occasion of my last of 12 sessions with her in my TBI recovery treatment this month, as a kind of “Thank You” and a window into my psyche she might not formerly have had, otherwise. It is brief, so here it is in its entirety.
There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.
Like, telling someone you love them.
Or giving your money away, all of it.
Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.
As I read this collection, I realized that somewhere between her last collection of poetry and this one, Mary Oliver seems to have fallen—quite unexpectedly, to her—in passionate love in her 70s. That gives me hope, long single myself at the age of 61 and not having met anyone suitable for many years; I had given up. Thanks, Mary!
Many of the poems in this new collection are about that first wonder, doubt, then acceptance of her “condition,” being in love again at her “advanced” age, and then some extremely sweet descriptions of their relationship’s minutiae and tender times.
Here is a short poem like that, This and That:
This and That
In this early dancing of a new day—
dogs leaping on the beach,
dolphins leaping not far from shore—
someone is bending over me,
is kissing me slowly.
Oliver divides this collection into three parts, like a symphony or play. Part I, “Journey,” is followed by Part II, “Love,” and is capped by Part III, “Felicity.”
Very intentionally, Oliver begins this collection with Don’t Worry and ends with A Voice From I Don’t Know Where—the only poem in Part III. The two pieces she chose to sandwich these romantic but challenging years do it quite elegantly and sweetly. This "voice" tells her to be happy with this new love, but in much better language than that. The book ends with a strong acknowledgment, giving her permission to enjoy her life:
A Voice From I Don’t Know Where
It must surely, then, be very happy down there
in your heart.
“Yes,” I said. “It is.”
During this “Journey” (the title of Part I), Oliver ruminates on trees, meadowlarks, storms, swans and many other beings and land formations that give her pause and inspiration, show her delight and her curiosity at her state of affairs (pun intended).
I love this metaphoric romp a lot, given her (and my) ages, especially this part, from Cobb Creek:
and for the first time in seventy-seven years
I fall in.
What a beautiful splash!
She uses epigrams to start each section from Rumi, which I appreciate, but I like her own pithy quotes the best. Here is my favorite, from A House, or a Million Dollars:
a House, or a Million Dollars
Love is the one thing the heart craves
and love is the one thing
you can’t steal.
Thank you, Mary, for sharing your thoughtful and joyful moments with us all.
image from Oliver’s appearances/reviews in several newspapers
May your contributions to our literary and emotional landscapes always be known as blessings while you still live and after you die, and may all beings benefit.
Find this collection and all of Oliver’s other work here: http://maryoliver.beacon.org/