04 March 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/10


On roadsides,
   in fall fields,
      in rumpy bunches,
         saffron and orange and pale gold,

in little towers,
   soft as mash,
      sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,
         full of bees and yellow beads and perfect flowerlets,

and orange butterflies,
   I don't suppose
      much notice comes of it, except for honey,
         and how it heartens the heart with its

blank blaze.
   I don't suppose anything loves it except, perhaps
      the rocky voids
         filled by its dumb dazzle.

For myself,
   I was just passing by, when the wind flared,
      and the blossoms rustled,
         and the glittering pandemonium

leaned on me.
   I was just minding my own business
      when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
         citron and butter-colored,

and was happy, and why not?
   Are not the difficult labors of our lives
      full of dark hours?
         And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?
   All day
      on their airy backbones
         they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
   they rise in a stiff sweetness,
      in the pure peace of giving
         one's gold away.

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is a contemporary American poet. And this poem strikes me as a contemporary American version of last week's poem, Wordsworth's I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud. Again we have a solitary walker who suddenly comes across an expanse of common wildflowers brought to golden life by the wind, and the sight enriches the poet inwardly. Both Wordsworth and Oliver carry on a subtle dialogue against their respective time's prevailing emphasis on monetary gain: Wordsworth calls the daffodils "golden" and pointedly describes the inner consolation their memory has brought him as "wealth." (In fact, it's a windfall.) Oliver too is minding "her own business" when she learns from the goldenrod - generally considered a useless and even, for those with allergies, harmful weed - a spiritual lesson in "the pure peace of giving / one's gold away." Both poets find not just consolation but strength and meaning in solitary union with wild nature.

Wordsworth uses regular rhyme and meter, but also a radical simplicity of diction (more apparent and startling in his time than in ours, thanks partly to his influence). Oliver delights in the use of alliteration and wordplay to build her poem and make it memorable: "sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers" the goldenrod "heartens the heart with its blank blaze"; her looser contemporary lines are full of similar examples.

This is from Oliver's New and Selected Poems, which is apparently now Volume 1, though it was a stand-alone volume back when I bought it.


Civic Center said...

All I could think of while reading this was your aching head and diminished eyesight thanks to your allergies to nature's bounty. Glad you don't hold it against Spring itself.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

It is a dilemma, and I do think of allergies every time I read about the undoubted delights of Spring. Perhaps allergies are one reason Mr Eliot tells us that April is the cruelest month.

Unknown said...

Rumpy Bunches! My first thought after reading it was that it was like the Wordsworth poem by Virginia Woolf.
Do you know that I had no idea what goldenrod was other than a favorite color in the Crayola box of 64. I had to look them up and learn that they were sturdy prairie flowers.
Thanks for giving me something to look forward to on Mondays.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

Color me shocked on goldenrod. Just another sturdy, cheerful, old-fashioned golden flower that apparently just isn't quite good enough or fancy enough for certain people.

Sibyl said...

Oh sure, draw me in with that ineffably pure villanelle by Ford. My curiosity thus piqued, and the calcified inner chambers of my formerly poetry lauding heart thus fissured with hairline cracks, I scroll down to this poem and BLAMMO! I am unprepared to deal with beauty on this level, and it hurts just a little. Damn yer...Thank you.