Posts tagged ‘winter and the nuthatch’

September 4, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Mary Oliver

by Melissa Harding


Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Mary Oliver is a true poet of nature. Her poems speak about the natural world, from the smallest creatures to the largest questions of being alive. Some of her poems are famous enough to be printed on posters or used as quotes in email signatures, but don’t hold that against her. In her defense, they really are just that good; so good, in fact, that Oliver won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for her work. For people who find poetry too intangible, or perhaps too strange, Oliver’s poems are different – honest and supremely sensible. In a 2012 interview with NPR , she had this to say about her work, “One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear. It mustn’t be fancy. I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now are, they sort of tap dance through it. I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary shouldn’t be in a poem.” While many poets write about the topic of nature, Oliver’s poems are so crafted that they bear reading again and again; they are never the same each time and always provoke a different corner of the heart or mind.

The Swan
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

Oliver’s poems remind us that we are alive and that our lives have consequence. She asks us to be mindful, of both the world around us and the one inside us. What is so refreshing about Oliver is that she asks these difficult things of us only because she has struggled with them herself. These are questions worth asking, even if the answers are hard.

Winter and the Nuthatch
Once or twice and maybe again, who knows,
the timid nuthatch will come to me
if I stand still, with something good to eat in my hand.
The first time he did it
he landed smack on his belly, as though
the legs wouldn’t cooperate. The next time
he was bolder. Then he became absolutely
wild about those walnuts.

But there was a morning I came late and, guess what,
the nuthatch was flying into a stranger’s hand.
To speak plainly, I felt betrayed.
I wanted to say: Mister,
that nuthatch and I have a relationship.
It took hours of standing in the snow
before he would drop from the tree and trust my fingers.
But I didn’t say anything.
Nobody owns the sky or the trees.
Nobody owns the hearts of birds.
Still, being human and partial therefore to my own successes—
though not resentful of others fashioning theirs—
I’ll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early.

Read a full biography of Mary Oliver and find selected poems here.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above picture was taken by Jeff Harding.


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