Celebrate Poetry Month: Mary Oliver

First, I must make a confession. Although I have a degree in English, I am not a poet or a scholar of poetry. When I taught Introduction to Literature many  years ago, I was often as confused as my students about the poems and their meanings. And I am a person who likes meaning; I did after all, concentrate on the most earnest and meaning-laden group of writers of all times: the Victorians.

So Iwas more pleased the other day when a group of my  Facebook friends, much more poetic and learned in the subject than I, started praising Mary Oliver. I too love Oliver, although my devotion is of a fan not of a fellow wordsmith. My books of her  poetry are marked with sticky notes to remind me to return to the ones that speak to me. Two I’ve copied and they stay on my office wall to remind me to love (“In Praise of Craziness, of a Certain Kind”) and to be brave (“The Journey“).

This year, as a long winter ended and the semester came to a close with long-awaited balmy spring days, another of her poems resnonated with my colleagues and me:

Spring in the Classroom

Elbows on dry books, we dreamed
Past Miss Willow Bangs, and lessons, and windows,
To catch all day glimpses and guesses of the greening woodlot,
Its secrets and increases,
Its hidden nests and kind.
And what warmed in us was no book-learning,
But the old mud blood murmuring,
Loosening like petals from bone sleep.
So spring surrounded the classroom, and we suffered to be kept indoors,
Droned through lessons, carved when we could with jackknives
Our pulsing initials into the desks, and grew
Angry to be held so, without pity and beyond reason,
By Miss Willow Bangs, her eyes two stones behind glass,
Her legs thick, her heart
In love with pencils and arithmetic.

So it went — one gorgeous day lost after another
While we sat like captives and breathed the chalky air
And the leaves thickened and birds called
From the edge of the world — till it grew easy to hate,
To plot mutiny, even murder. Oh, we had her in chains,
We had her hanged and cold, in our longing to be gone!
And then one day, Miss Willow Bangs, we saw you
As we ran wild in our three o’clock escape
Past the abandoned swings; you were leaning
All furry and blooming against the old brick wall
In the Art Teacher’s arms.

It seems appropriate to end poetry month with praise to my poetic hero from a very humble fan.

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