Mary Oliver is a poet who gives her attention to her natural surroundings and to a presence that she finds there. “The universe is full of radiant suggestion,” she writes. “Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs forever and forever returns, we experience eternity” (25). Oliver is in love with her landscape and describes it as “the theatre of the spiritual” (90). As a poet she gives the physical world her full attention, broods upon the mystery within it, falls utterly in love with it, experiences that frightful joy, that disarranging gladness characteristic of being in love, and describes the experience on the page. Paying attention is a way of loving. Poems that pay attention are acts of love, moments of “fraternal embrace,” “classic caress” (Williams, 89). Wherever she writes “I,” she means not only herself but also the reader. We are invited to read the poem as if we were the “I.” We must use our imaginations to meet her there, to look at the poem on the page and be transported to her bit of forest, or ocean, where she encounters transcendence and eternity, that we might encounter the same. Oliver’s poems are not only an outpouring of the gratitude, respect, wonder and dependence she feels for her natural surroundings, an expression of their significance, but her poems are a suggestion of the possible. They invoke a spirit of wonder and hope. “The constancy of the physical world, under its green and blue dyes, draws me toward a better, richer self (…) where a gloss of spirit would mirror itself in worldly action. I don’t mean just mild goodness. I mean feistiness too, the fires of human energy stoked; I mean a gladness vivacious enough to disarrange the sorrows of the world into something better. I mean whatever real rejoicing can do” (Oliver, 91). What passion, what possibility, charges her poems! They are full of energy and aspiration and response(-ibility).
The epigraph, a quotation from William Carlos Williams’ Spring & All, refers to the imagination as that realm wherein the reader can put themselves in a poem or story and feel the resonance of the experience described there. Great literature invites anyone to map their own yearning upon the landscape of creativity and hope developed there, and imagine a different reality. We experience a radical affirmation of life by reading about it, by believing that life is worthy of our attention, and because readers are kin to authors. No one is alone, even across cultures. Poetry, and other art forms, are an affirmation of life, an avowal, a promise. Together, as one, we shall begin.