Homework Help

What is the poem "A Letter from Home" by Mary Oliver mean?What are the themes and...

user profile pic

nlywg | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 27, 2009 at 5:39 AM via web

dislike 0 like

What is the poem "A Letter from Home" by Mary Oliver mean?

What are the themes and please analyze the poem line by line. Thanks.

I have included a copy of the poem below:

She sends me news of blue jays, frost,
Of stars and now the harvest moon
That rides above the stricken hills.
Lightly, she speaks of cold, of pain,
And lists what is already lost.
Here where my life seems hard and slow,
I read of glowing melons piled
Beside the door, and baskets filled
With fennel, rosemary and dill,
While all she could not gather in
Or hid in leaves, grow black and falls.
Here where my life seems hard and strange,
I read her wild excitement when
Stars climb, frost comes, and blue jays sing.
The broken year will make no change
Upon her wise and whirling heart; -
She knows how people always plan
To live their lives, and never do.
She will not tell me if she cries.

I touch the crosses by her name;
I fold the pages as I rise,
And tip the envelope, from which
Drift scraps of borage, woodbine, rue.

1 Answer | Add Yours

user profile pic

ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted October 29, 2009 at 10:55 AM (Answer #1)

dislike 1 like

This poem is clearly about the loss of a loved one and the regret we feel or perhaps the hindsight we experience when looking back. We don't know who, the narrator has lost, but we could perhaps infer it is the narrator's mother.

The narrator goes back and forth in time, as s/he remembers the letter writer. We know that whomever the letter writer is she was ill, and yet her words pass along the joys of her everday life appreciation of the simple things (perhaps because she realizes how transient life truly is.) Her illness she makes light of, as there is little said of "cold and pain."

Surviving life after the death of the letter writer is clearly difficult for the narrator as s/he has chosen to come to the grave site to ponder a life that has seemed "hard and strange" during the "broken year", and yet the narrator indicates that s/he is perhaps ready to begin letting go of the past as s/he "tip[s] the envelope from which/drift scraps of borage, woodbine, and rue," over the grave of the one who had most probably clipped them and sent them in the letter as a loving reminder of home.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes