OWLS AND OTHER FANTASIES
Hardcover, ISBN 0-8070-6868-3
65 pages, $22
Now and then comes a small, slim book that radiates the joy of discovery, the rare find, the words as clear and delightful as spring water in the hills. Mary Oliver s Owls and Other Fantasies is such a book. Outside poetry circles, she may be little known, but she comes with the credentials of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In Owls, her poetry and essays sing with images as precise as William Carlos Williams, the meaning and intelligence so lucid you must take a second look to be sure you haven t missed something more complex beneath the surface.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
She accepts life intertwined with death, death as a part of life, and life as a part of death. Writing about the beauty of the owl, and its merciless ability to kill prey (the antithesis of our culture s view of the owl as a symbol of placid wisdom), she states:
When I hear it resounding through the woods, and then the five black pellets of its song dropping like stones into the air, I know I am standing at the edge of the mystery, in which terror is naturally and abundantly part of life, part of even the most becalmed, intelligent, sunny life as, for example, my own. The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live too. There is only one world.
After witnessing such a kill, Oliver ponders death as something other than we normally envision it, something less sinister, a place where darkness meets light:
isn t darkness, after all
but so much light
wrapping itself around us
Oliver s wisdom and sensibility run deep. While other poets hide behind symbols and obtuse meanings because they lack something to say or fear being too plain, Oliver has something to say, something we would do well to listen to.
What misery to be afraid of death.
What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.