Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver


Beacon Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8070-6914-1

Summary, from cover:

“Joy is not made to be a crumb,” writes Mary Oliver, and certainly joy abounds in her new book of poetry and prose poems. Swan, her twentieth volume, shows us that, though we may be “made out of the dust of stars,” we are of the world she captures here so vividly. Swan is Oliver’s tribute to “the mortal way” of desiring and living in the world, to which the poet is renowned for having always been “totally loyal.”

My thoughts:

I am an ardent fan of Mary Oliver. Since reading Upstream in 2016, I have been on a rampage to read every book she has written. Out of them all, I have enjoyed Swan the most. Even though my favorite poem, “Wild Geese,” is not in this collection, I found many new favorites. Swan is a tight knit collection that is a stellar addition to her repertoire.

My most favorite in this collection was the prose-poem “How I Go to the Woods.” The very last line, “If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much” is what brought tears to my eyes. I am the same way- unless I am doing field work for my research project, I go to the woods alone. It is easier that way, as I can fade into the woods and be invisible. I do not have to keep track of someone, only myself and my own breathing. If I were to take someone into the woods with me, they would have to be the most loved person in my life. Mary Oliver describes the quiet love for nature and others that I want to have with “How I Go to the Woods.”

“Swan,” the namesake for this collection, was my second favorite. Mary Oliver often writes poems that are composed only questions, and “Swan” is one. I like the poems she does this way, as they challenge me to think about life rather than absorb the poem. As with “How I Go to the Woods,” the last three lines were the ones that brought the whole poem to my attention. Her subject swiftly changed from questioning what I saw to what I perceived. Mary Oliver gets in your face this way: do you see it? do you see the beauty in the world around you? and forces the reader to stop and think.

My last favorite from the collection is “Passing the Unworked Field.” I enjoy all flowers, and one I especially like is Queen Anne’s Lace. There used to be a great patch of Queen Anne’s Lace behind my house, and when I was younger, I would pick them to bring in. More than once, I got in trouble for dragging in the little bugs that lived in the center. This poem reminded me of the long summer days and the heat on my back as I picked flowers.

I definitely consider Swan as my favorite Mary Oliver work. There were many wonderful poems in this collection, and three of them have become new favorites. Oliver’s work manages to gently remind the reader of all the beauty around you, and how to see it. I know I will be going back to this volume to read over and over again.

1 thought on “Swan: Poems and Prose Poems by Mary Oliver

  1. Pingback: Tidying up August | gathering swallows

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