Mary Oliver

Essay by brahmas5University, Bachelor'sA+, June 2005

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Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver was born in 1935 in Cleveland, Ohio. She now lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts. At one time she was a secretary for Edna St. Vincent Millay's sister, and there is some evidence of Millay's influence in Oliver's early poetry. Her writing has few human subjects, but she draws us into her humanity through her acute focus on nature and her precision with language. She is the author of several volumes of poetry, including Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems (1999); West Wind (1997); White Pine (1994); New and Selected Poems (1992), which won the National Book Award; House of Light (1990); and American Primitive (1983), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. Oliver has also written three books: Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse (1998), Blue Pastures (1995), and A Poetry Handbook (1994). Olivers's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1980-1981) and from the National Endowment of the Arts (1972-1973).

She has also received an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award, a Lannan Literary Award, and the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Prize.

The power of Oliver's highly acclaimed poetry rests in its passionate attention to the natural world which she sees as the source of revelation about ultimate things. Like her romantic predecessors, Oliver locates wisdom in the wilderness she seeks in solitude, where discoveries about the self and nature's otherness can be made. Her poems of thirty years and her recent prose collection, Blue Pastures (1995), reveal an art driven by visionary conviction in a manner similar to her claimed influences, William Blake and Walt Whitman. Expressed in simple language and familiar imagery, evoking dark and joyous states, this vision of nature is often conveyed in an ecstatic voice that compels. Celebratory...