Poem: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
(250 words or so) Please put the idea of this poem into your own words, and then write your response to Mary Oliver's poem in the assignment box below by simply clicking on it. 1.Why does she move from the very small to the large? 2.Why does she so closely describe the grasshopper? 3.Do you like or dislike this poem...and why?
Idea of the poem:
Like so many of Mary Oliver's poems in which she contemplates nature, the experience, the vision, and the reflection upon nature transmute not to the sublime of the old Romantic poets; rather, they connect nature and the human in almost a religious experience.
For, in "The Summer Day" the poet holds a grasshopper and watches this small creature eat "moving her jaws back and forth" and "gazes around with her enormous and complicated eyes" as does a human being. Then, "she lifts her pale forearms" and washes her face--Nature is anthropomorphic. Moreover, all the actions connect this creature with the poet as Oliver creates a union between the natural world and the human as she ponders "I don't know exactly what a prayer is."
As one critic defines the themes of Oliver's poems,
The intersection between the human and the natural world, as well as the limits of human consciousness and language in articulating such a meeting.
1. Oliver moves from the small to the large because the close observation of the grasshopper, a minimal creature of nature, acts as a spark that ignites a broader thought as after such a simple, individual act of eating, the grasshopper then flies off and becomes part of the universe. So, too, do the poet's thoughts reach beyond the immediate to the metaphysical idea of life's purpose. Like the Romantic poets of the nineteenth century, Mary Oliver possesses a subjectivity that is connected to the world of nature and the spiritual.
2. It is the inspection of the grasshopper that generates the poet's broader thoughts. The "primacy of the physical" in Oliver, one reviewer writes, "invests it with a fresh intensity." The close description of the grasshopper lends the creature more magnitude, more significance, a meaning that can then connect to the personal world of the poet.
3. This poem is both whimsical and profound. The delight in the little grasshopper is appealing to a reader while the metaphysical question at the end--
Tell me what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?--
propose existential concerns. Oliver's connecting of the whimsical with the profound lends joy to the practical and the ponderous.