Mary Oliver is one of those writers that have successfully transformed me, in a way good writers do. Her literature takes me to a world far from the grey-urban world I’m used to and into the wildness that is nature. Her influence was subtle. With continuous exposure to her work, I found myself wondering about the movement of birds and their songs. Walking then became more than just an exercise for solitude and thinking, but a journey of noticing the smallness in the world. So many poems later, I found myself fascinated and taken aback by the natural world.
Upstream, while not a collection of poems but rather Oliver’s prose, succeeds once again in transporting me to the smallness and ironically big-ness of the world we live in. I rarely read essays, if I do, most of them following a narrative line or a philosophical thread in this case I felt I was journeying through a wilderness of mind and nature. Oliver’s writing didn’t read like an academic essay nor was it self-reflective, it felt more like field notes written prosaically while succeeding to be poetic.
Not everything, however was about nature, a section was dedicated on writers, another on building a house and another on Provincetown. Yet, the ramble and tumble of words–carefully placed and yet seemingly stream of consciousness—begs the reader to stop, observe and take stock. There is a keen-ness required in reading Oliver. I find, each time, she forces me to look, to truly stare at the words and discover their meaning. There is nothing much more I could say about Upstream, except maybe share a few quotes and my thoughts on them.
“I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim to save his or her life. I wrote the same way too.”
I couldn’t help but pick this up and sort of put it in my pocket. It reminds me the desperation I felt in my own reading and writing—as if the urgency was there. If not urgency as sense of knowing that this was what it meant to live.
” They fight over food, and the strongest eats more and more often than the weakest. They have neither mercy nor pity. They have one responsibility–to stay alive, if they can, and be foxes.”
Oliver’s observation of nature reminds me of how different we are to animals. There is no malicious intent here, merely being. The focus is to survive and live as much as they could as they were built to do.
” And you must not, ever give anyone else responsibility for your life.”
This resonated with me the day I read it. While I do not deliberately give the responsibility for my life to anybody, I do allow them to affect me—to shape my life to a point that I can’t recognize it anymore as mine.
There are more that I have noted down, but as I write this post, they all seem unnecessary. If anything, Mary Oliver’s Upstream left me with an understanding of myself and the life I am in search of. More and more I feel the shackle of possession, of owning things and of being part of this urbanity. Maybe its age, maybe it’s something else, but my desire to be one with nature grows. My desire to see life, accept it for what it is and not be troubled by the fleetingness of it grows uncomfortable within my soul.
(This books was read also for Modern Mrs. Darcy 2017 Reading Challenge. 1/14)