Please analyze line by line the meaning and use of vowel/consonant sounds of the poem "Mushrooms" by Mary Oliver. 

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Mushrooms" by Mary Oliver reflects on how mushrooms grow and the different forms they take. 

The first ten lines describe how mushrooms grow. The lines read,

Rain, and then
the cool pursed
lips of the wind
draw them
out of the ground -
red and yellow skulls
pummeling upward
through leaves, 
through grasses, 
through sand; (1-10)

The speaker explains how the rain and the wind play their parts in coaxing the mushrooms "out of the ground." The mushrooms are described as "red and yellow skulls," which gives them a humanlike quality. The mushrooms are "pummeling upward," which indicates the speed and force with which they develop. They move up "through leaves / through grasses / through sand" (8-10). The repetition of the word "through" and the repeated consonant ("T") and vowel ("ou") stylistically describes the growth process of the mushrooms.

In the middle of line 10, the next idea continues:

astonishing
in their suddenness, 
their quietude, 
their wetness, they appear
on fall mornings, some
balancing in the earth
on one hoof
packed with poison, 
others billowing
chunkily, and delicious - (10-19)

Following the idea of the previous lines, the mushrooms are described as "astonishing / in their suddenness," again emphasizing their force and speed. However, they are also characterized by their "quietude" or stillness, which seems to be the opposite of "their suddenness." Further, a variety of mushrooms is detailed by the speaker: some are "packed with poison," while others are "delicious." The alliteration of "packed with poison" emphasizes the potential force and violence of the mushrooms that are dangerous to eat. The safe mushrooms are described with more appealing words like "billowing" and "chunkily," in addition to the aforementioned "delicious."

Next, the speaker introduces humans to this natural scene:

those who know
walk out to gather, choosing
the benign from flocks
of glitterers, sorcerers, 
russulas, 
panther caps, 
shark-white death angels
in their town veils
looking innocent as sugar
but full of paralysis: (20-29)

The speakers refers to "those who know," presumably meaning people who can tell the difference between poisionous and edible mushrooms. They pick "the benign" mushrooms from amongst the other, more threatening species. The dangerous mushrooms can be "glitterers" or "sorcerers," because they may trick people into eating them. The "russulas" are edible, but other types can serve as "shark-white death angels." This is a very threatening image, and the pairing of "death" and "angels" may be construed as oxymoronic. This metaphor continues through line 29, as the "death angels" appear "innocent" but are actually "full of paralysis." They can entice through their appearance, but they will ultimately kill you.

Finally, the poem ends with these lines:

to eat
is to stagger down 
fast as mushrooms themselves
when they are done being perfect
and overnight
slide back under the shining
fields of rain. (30-36)

The person who eats the poisonous mushrooms will "stagger down / fast as mushrooms themselves." The deadly effects of the mushrooms is compared to the quick destruction they can cause. We then return to the natural life cycle of the mushrooms as the speaker reflects on the way the mushrooms die; they "slide back under" the earth from which they arose.