“Thirst” by Mary Oliver: A Review

Thirst, by Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Oliver, is a collection of 43 poems mainly centered around the death of Oliver’s longtime partner, and the poet’s various reactions to that sad event. While a number of the poems are typical mourning poems, with memories of good times and reflections on life without that person, the majority are very spiritual in nature. I’m not sure if Oliver became religious before or after the death of her partner, but she seems very devout in her faith as she calls on God to help her through her grief, to keep her grounded in reality. At the same time, she accepts her grief as a sort of expression of love and continuance of her relationship with her partner.

My favorite poems in the book, and the most relatable, were the simple mourning poems, when religion was kept out of the picture, such as “A Note Left on the Door” (20), and “Those Days” (21): “…I would come / home, through the long shadows, and into the house/ where she would be// my glorious welcoming, tan and hungry and ready to tell/ the hurtless gossips of the day.” The poems are so powerful because of their focus on the tiny details of the day and of that person, the things you never pay attention to, but you’ll miss more than anything when that person is gone. These poems were very moving.

With the same attention to detail, many of the poems focus on things in nature, particularly animals, such as “Swimming with Otter” (11) and “In the Storm” (62), about a small flock of sanderlings taking shelter from a storm under the tails of ducks. These beautiful poems encourage an opening up to nature, to look closer than we usually do. This is something that I try to do, when I remember, and these poems promote that goal. In many of these poems, Oliver connects the tiniest details to an appreciation of God and his handiwork.

Some of the poems were much more blatant in their religious focus, many of them being prayers. I found these to be rather alienating, and monotonous as well, as they all started to sound the same. I’m not sure how I feel about this, because they are as well-written as the rest, and I shouldn’t have to agree with something to appreciate it, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of the hymns and psalms I was forced to mindlessly recite throughout my childhood, and I quickly zoned out.

Although I love Oliver’s writing style, particularly her attention to detail and her focus on the natural world, I started to get bored around the middle of the book, because there was such a distinct thematic pattern between all of the poems. They all started to seem alike, especially the religious poems. I would have appreciated a bit more range, with less of a focus on average prayers.

1 Response to ““Thirst” by Mary Oliver: A Review”

  1. 1 alireza Mar 20th, 2008 at 1:13 am

    I am in the middle of some wrtting project about Mary Oliver. she uses nature to connect to her personal spiritual world and besides that nature is a common language that every body can understand it.
    I enjoy of your comment.

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