I think I have not lived a single hour of my life by calculation.
Something tells me that this little volume will be Mary Oliver's last (I am hoping she will prove me wrong). Having chosen the last few titles with extreme care (the poems in Thirst, for example, focus on the speaker's need and sudden discovery of the Christian faith; Red Bird includes a number of poems about war and carnage, etc), I cannot help but thinking that Oliver has chosen Swan: Poems and Prose Poems to be her conclusive swansong. The jacket blurb says nothing of the sort, of course, as it quotes some of the most beautiful lines from the title poem:
"Joy is not made to be a crumb," writes Mary Oliver, and certainly joy abounds in her new book of poetry and prose poems. Swan, her twentieth volume, shows us that, though we may be "made out of the dust of stars," we are of the world she captures here so vividly: the acorn that hides within it an entire tree; the wings of the swan like the stretching light of the river; the frogs singing in the shallows; the mockingbird dancing in air. Swan is Oliver's tribute to "the mortal way" of desiring and living in the world, to which the poet is renowned for having always been "totally loyal."
Frankly, I have very mixed feelings about Swan. On the one hand, Oliver has never written better, more precise, more lucid, more compact poetry (then again, I said the same thing about Evidence, Red Bird and Thirst). On the other, she insists on politicizing her vision in a number of poems: there is a piece, for example, in which she describes President Obama going down on his knees and offering a prayer to God early in the morning. I was perturbed. The kind of "natural" epiphany that Oliver has really excelled at does not mix well with politics, especially not with mundane and concrete politics, such as she writes about here (a number of poems in Red Bird actually invoke the shadowy concept of an "American Empire").
Some of the later poems, especially the prose ones, seem a bit "lazily" written to me. A small quip about the power of language (specifically, the language of poetry): "Words are too wonderful for words. The vibrant translation of things to ideas. Hello there. My best greetings to you." WTF?
Still, when she shines, she shines. (I refer you to one of the sonnets that I quote below--can somebody help me figure out what the little sparkly thing is?) A Fox in the Dark (probably my favorite!), The Riders, Percy are all excellent, first-rate poems; pure Mary Oliver.
Lord, there are so many fires, so many words, in my heart. It's going to take something I can't even imagine, to put them all out.