The generosity of Mary Oliver


Today is Mary Oliver's 83rd birthday. Most people know her as a poet, but I think of her first as an essayist. Here's a mighty fine sentence that she wrote in "Owls," an essay from Blue Pastures. What impresses me about this sentence is that in each item in her list, she gives us a lot of sensory detail and just when we think she's going to stop, she goes a step farther to give us even more. You might say that she's showing off, but I read this as an act of generosity. Try It yourself -- her form, your subject matter!

"And I see, on my way to the owl’s nest, many marvelous things: the gray hives of the paper wasps, hidden in summer by the leaves but now apparent on the boughs; nests, including one of the Baltimore oriole, with fishline woven into it, so that it has in the wind a comet’s tail of rippling white threads; and pheasants, birds that were released into fall’s russet fields but find themselves still alive at the far end of winter, and are glad of it, storming upward from the fields on their bright wings; and great blue herons, thin and melancholy; and deer, in their gray winter coats, bounding through the cold bogs; an owl in a tree with an unexpected face -- a barred owl, seen once, and once only.