West Wind Critical Essays

Mary Oliver

West Wind

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Not conventionally religious, the poems in WEST WIND nevertheless are poems of faith and miracle. Mary Oliver is attentive both to miracle in the natural world and of the natural world. Her gift of words is to serve by celebrating and sharing her rapture of beholding and belonging. Oliver’s stance, then, is much like Percy Bysshe Shelley’s in “Ode to the West Wind,” and her title pays homage to this poet-priest of nature.

Oliver can stand rooted in this world and feel herself transported to the heavens. Her imagination closes the distances between the everyday and the extraordinary, the temporal and the eternal. She is a skillful practitioner of contemporary free verse. One of her characteristic devices is grammatical parallelism; several poems use this device to advantage, the power of enumeration and accumulation driving the emotional register to crescendo after crescendo.

Many of Oliver’s poems take their focal points and titles from a single natural kind. “Seven White Butterflies,” “Black Oaks,” “Pilot Snake,” “Maples,” “The Osprey,” and “Fox” are among those works in which Oliver often goes beyond appreciative description to enter a world of imagined sensibility. For Oliver, a plant or animal is uniquely itself but also a map of the larger creation.

Just as “Am I Not Among the Early Risers” presents Oliver’s own fulfilling lifetime of outdoor habits, so the culminating poem, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches,” insists that this fulfillment is sharable, that it could—and perhaps should—be duplicated by others. Her accomplishment in this fine collection is to persuade readers that they can share her intense joy.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIII, June 1, 1997, p. 1648.

Boston. LXXXIX, May, 1997, p. 119.

Library Journal. CXXII, July, 1997, p. 87.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIV, June 30, 1997, p. 73.