Themes In Mary Oliver's 'American Primitive'

Decent Essays
Mary Oliver’s book of poems, titled American Primitive, follows several themes and contains just under 50 poems. The most prominent theme is the grief cycle, following the seasonal cycle. This cycle follows the pattern where the situation gets worse before it gets better. There is a duration where the situation declines until things are very bad, as if there is no hope - as in fall to winter. This ultimately leads to the darkest point, the dead of winter. There seems to be no light, but then hope slowly appears, blossoming into full resurrection and restoration, parallelling spring and summer. Nature and sexuality are also essential aspects of the poems. I will discuss three of my favorite poems, “Lightning”, “University Hospital,…show more content…
As I reread and discussed this poem in class, I noticed the sexual language and meaning behind the poem, which deepened my appreciation for the poem. I believe my experience shares many of the same types of emotions as the sensuality Mary Oliver is describing, only in a different context. Oliver writes about how, “fear shouts, / excitement shouts, back / and forth” (7). This description applies to both sexuality and experiencing great and awesome acts of nature. This relates to one of Oliver’s themes, experiencing nature and its parallels to our experiences. The second poem which I exceptionally enjoyed was “Universtiy Hospital, Boston”. It is written to someone who is receiving hospital care with lush and thriving trees around them. This poem comes right after many harsh winter poems, and just before the optimistic spring poems. Because of its placement and themes, I believe that it is the first poem which begins the transition from winter to spring, and as such it has a harsh bite, but not without some greater optimism. In the middle of the third paragraph, Mary Oliver writes, “and how many died / staring at the leaves of the trees” (42). This is a sad image, and maybe slightly depressing. However, I also belive this image is supposed to be bittersweet; looking at beautiful trees as I die would make me happy, and it seems like a decent way to go.
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