Sunday, August 29, 2010

"In Blackwater Woods" by Mary Oliver

My first thought when I started this poem was that I should really find out where this Blackwater Woods was, if it was a real place, since it was so important that the author made it the title of her poem. So I looked it up. It is apparently located in Blackwater Pond, MA, or at least that is what the articles led me to believe. It was also clearly the inspiration of many of her poems, as I found that she was very in-tune with and reverent of nature. It was truly fascinating how she could relate such simple instances in nature to such deep and precious feelings of her own.

Oliver begins her poem with the description of a forest, which foretold a less gloomy ending to her poem than actually was the case. The uplifting description of the trees as “pillars of light…giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment,” and of “tapers of cattails…bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders of the ponds," gave me hope, at first. But then I realized that, when she speaks of the tapers floating away, she begins her tale of loss.

Everyone has their own way of expressing the misery and sorrow that they are forced to withstand, that is sometimes thrown unexpectedly into their path, that almost no one can avoid. Mary Oliver uses her unique style of poetry as an aid for herself and those who have met with the pain of living in a mortal world: it is a way to lessen the pain by communicating her feelings through nature. In it, Oliver speaks of grief, most likely over the death of a loved one, with her description of “…the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know.” This clearly speaks, to me, of the journey from this life to the next, a path which leads to a better place, but one that we will never fully understand in this life.

The line “…and every pond, no matter what its name is, is nameless now,” transitions the poem from her initially calm and peaceful forest into her tale of depressing familiarity with sadness and loss. She suggests three things that everyone must know in order to survive in this world: that nothing and no one lasts forever in this life, and that we should be able to “love what is mortal” knowing that it could soon be gone, “[holding] it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it.” But most importantly, she tells us that we should understand that the world keeps on turning, and, even though we should not forget to love and cherish these mortal things, and remember them still when they are gone, we must learn how to let them go. These words moved me, and I will not forget this advice easily, because it makes sense: everyone has something that they will lose in this life, but that does not mean that they should never love it in the first place.

2 comments:

  1. “…the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know.” That's a great line.

    "These words moved me, and I will not forget this advice easily, because it makes sense: everyone has something that they will lose in this life, but that does not mean that they should never love it in the first place." Agreed! :) Great thoughts.

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  2. This poem was read at my sisters funeral Oct 8, 2016. We were standing behind on reader so we could not here it. It truly is a piece of inspiration and of hope, even though it speaks of loss. I appreciate your beautiful interpretation of the poem. Thank's to Mary Oliver for writing it after the loss of her own dear mother.

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