Dream Work (Magill's Literary Annual 1987)
Mary Oliver seems to mean by the title of her collection of poetry Dream Work an intuitive as well as deliberate movement toward a nature-oriented perception of oneself. Dreams are an important vehicle for this movement, and nature is both in them and the goal toward which they move, the goal being life in its truest sense. If this sounds like Romanticism, it is, but with a twist. Instead of viewing man as a dimly divine creature discovering godhead in nature, Oliver’s Romanticism leaves out the divine aspect and the human egotism; she regards nature simply as the best place for a person to see where he or she belongs.
For Oliver, nature is hard to avoid. It is an overwhelming presence, and the way one pays attention to it is not mainly through reason but through the subconscious and through intuition. In order to find out what nature is all about, one must be feelingly open to it. At first, at least, nature is frightening. In “Banyan,” she shows how the organisms in nature are inexorable, beginning as seeds and ending as insatiable growth. Not only is nature hungry, predatory, as in “Bowing to the Empress,” but also impersonal. The destructive forces in nature see no link with their human victims because they cannot. There is no love or hate in them as there is in people, which makes them hard for people to accept. Yet accept them people...
(The entire section is 1508 words.)
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