MARY OLIVER V. CHARLES SIMIC

What in the world is better than Nature poetry, for cryin’ outloud?

Mary Oliver is a nature poet.  A nature poet is the best way to go: who doesn’t adore and implicitly love nature?  You want animals?  You got ‘em.  You want imagery and scenery?  Done.  You want the bitter, hard, but carefree, unsentimental life?  It’s yours.  You want quasi-religious platitudes?  Here they are.

THE SUMMER DAY

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?

Oliver is timeless.  This poem could have been written thousands of years ago.  It makes me want to cry, thinking about it.  We still live in the land of nature poets.  We really don’t need TV.  If you don’t like modern life, the nature poet will save you.

If nature poets make you bored and dull and restless with their perfections, there’s always Charles Simic, who writes poems from inside the diseased city:

THE FORK

This strange thing must have crept
Right out of hell.
It resembles a bird’s foot
Worn around the cannibal’s neck.
As you hold it in your hand,
As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird:
Its head which like your fist
Is large, bald, beakless, and blind.
 
Perhaps this is a nature poem, too, except it just has a little more ‘Man’ in it.
 
Marla Muse: Mankind puts its creepy footprints all over everything.
 
You don’t like the Simic poem?
 
Marla Muse:  I don’t.  I prefer the grasshopper and all those questions.  Simic is too proud of what he thinks of a fork.
 
When given the chance, women are better poets.  Men are too certain about their thoughts.
 
Marla Muse:  Now you’re catching on.  The eternal feminine.
 
Marla, you’re correct—in this instance.  Oliver cruises, 67-53.
 
 
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7 Comments

  1. George said,

    March 23, 2012 at 12:25 am

    Hey look at that giant rock dick behind her. Nature!

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 23, 2012 at 2:58 am

      what a quaint observation!

      but why would nature make a rock dick?

      only man would do something as silly as that.

      • George said,

        March 23, 2012 at 5:00 am

        I’d like to think that Mary’s standing behind her own home, proudly showing us her secret and greatest art : a Mary-made double-dick (one horizontal, one vertical). And the rocks are fake!

        • Noochinator said,

          March 23, 2012 at 10:47 pm

          I also thought “dick”
          When I saw the rock shelf,
          Though ‘t may say less about Mar
          Than it does about myself.

  2. David said,

    March 23, 2012 at 4:36 am

    Of course, Mary Oliver is more than just a nature poet:

    Gethsemane
    By Mary Oliver

    The grass never sleeps.
    Or the roses.
    Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.

    Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.

    The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet,
    and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body,
    and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.

    Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move, maybe
    the lake far away, where once he walked as on a
    blue pavement,
    lay still and waited, wild awake.

    Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not
    keep that vigil, how they must have wept,
    so utterly human, knowing this too
    must be a part of the story.

  3. Des said,

    March 23, 2012 at 4:39 am

    In this instance, In the context of this March Madness Slam Competition, the effect of Oliver’s feelgood zen-lite grasshopper voice speaking with a straightfoward, all inclusive consumer-friendly warmth that doesn’t unsettle the audience, trumps Simic’s less immediately positive sounding narrator talking of cannibals, dead birds and stabbing meat in The Fork: though a closer reading of The Fork may yield more than the The Summer Day to chew on..

    Who made the world?
    This strange thing must have crept
    Who made the swan, and the black bear?
    It resembles a bird’s foot

    Who made the grasshopper
    Worn around the cannibal’s neck
    This grasshopper, I mean –
    As you hold it in your hand,

    the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
    As you stab with it into a piece of meat,
    the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
    It is possible to imagine the rest of the bird
    who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
    Its head which like your fist
    who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
    Is large, bald, beakless, and blind.

    Right out of hell.

    In which one poem’s got to win and the other lose. The entire format favors a swift, formal delivery of American Zen, to the general reading public enthusiastic, appreciative and actively hearing the love found in a perrenial Oliver poem. Her poetic focussing on the balance in small, uplifting (and bleak) moments of anonymous human drama, resonate singularly and together, bespeaks of an America of cultural mash-up packaged into an appealing conditional whole the greater public consciousness concurs with. Commercially self-sustaining, elevating a fine contemporary poet to the number one slot at Amazon, bought by the masses because The Summer Day doesn’t require or demand our attention at its fullest in order to ‘get’ it. A poem like The Fork does.

    Much of Chuck’s would, I suspect, effect outright hostility in many of Oliver’s millions of readers. I’d speculatively suggest, correctly or not, but there’s a sense that the youth of this European poet, being so unlike Oliver’s, experienced as a displaced person roiling in the devastation of immediate post war Serbia, ‘amazed by all the vileness and stupidity’, is too far removed from the average American’s youth, for them to immediately connect with poems like The Fork. Except perhaps military personal who’ve witnessed torture in the various theatres of war around the world, at the camps of hissuch an unAmerican; though of course it could be wrong.

    Mr Simic is a poet I haven’t read much of. I’m more familiar with Oliver, though ‘familiar’ is a deliberately misleading choice because I’ve read less than 10 of the very many successful poems she writes.

    50-50

  4. David said,

    March 23, 2012 at 4:51 am

    Yet neither Oliver nor SImic will ever hold a candle to these lines:

    What Power delights to torture us? I know
    That to myself I do not wholly owe
    What now I suffer, though in part I may.
    Alas! none strewed sweet flowers upon the way
    Where wandering heedlessly, I met pale Pain
    My shadow, which will leave me not again —
    If I have erred, there was no joy in error,
    But pain and insult and unrest and terror;
    I have not as some do, bought penitence
    With pleasure, and a dark yet sweet offence,
    For then,– if love and tenderness and truth
    Had overlived hope’s momentary youth,
    My creed should have redeemed me from repenting;
    But loathed scorn and outrage unrelenting
    Met love excited by far other seeming
    Until the end was gained … as one from dreaming
    Of sweetest peace, I woke, and found my state
    Such as it is –


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