Long Life:
Essays and Other Writings

by Mary Oliver


Da Capo, 2004. ISBN 0306809958.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 12/04/2004

Elders; Nature/Place/Environment; Poetry

I am a Mary Oliver fan. I love her poetry combining spirit and nature, and I can understand it. I certainly agree that writing should come from the heart; however, if it is to be published, the authors should sometimes provide a map to navigate the terrain. Not Mary Oliver. In these essays and poems, Oliver shares with us how the world calls to her and invites us to greet our world as she does hers. I particularly love:

"People say to me: wouldn't you like to see Yosemite? The Bay of Fundy? The Brooks Range? I smile and answer, 'Oh yes' sometime. And go off to my woods, my ponds, my sun-filled harbor, no more than a blue comma on the map of the world, but to me, the emblem of everything. It is the intimate, never The general, that is teacherly."

Teacherly. My computer says that is not a word. What does my computer know? I like it. Even her prose is poetic. "Every day my early morning walk along the water grants me a second waking. My feet are nimble, now my ears wake, and give thanks for the ocean's song."

I liked Part Three the least. Her praise of Emerson and Hawthorne were first published as introductions to Modern Library Classics. However, she did tickle my curiosity about Emerson. She has given me enough in her short essay to make me want to read his work now that I am an adult. I think of all the rich material which I was fed in school and only now as a mature adult can appreciate and enjoy.

Oliver does not write, here, about aging or the end of life. She writes in both prose and poetry about how full her life is. And she reminds us that full does not necessarily mean busy. She reminds me that I could live a rich and delicious life right here in my neighborhood. She reminds me that I can receive so much by being conscious. This book stays on my shelf with my other Olivers to pick back up occasionally and savor.

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