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Mary Oliver's "Reckless Poem"

Updated on December 11, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Mary Oliver and Friend

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Reckless Poem"

The age old dichotomy of myself vs the not-myself takes the stage in Mary Oliver's "Reckless Poem" as it features the theme of self-awareness, dramatizing the act of intuitive knowledge superseding supposedly empirical evidence.

Reckless Poem

Today again I am hardly myself.
It happens over and over.
It is heaven-sent.

It flows through me
like the blue wave.
Green leaves – you may believe this or not –
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers

somewhere
deep in the woods,
in the reckless seizure of spring.

Though, of course, I also know that other song,
the sweet passion of one-ness.

Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
until I came to myself.

And still, even in these northern woods, on these hills of sand,
I have flown from the other window of myself
to become white heron, blue whale,
red fox, hedgehog.
Oh, sometimes already my body has felt like the body of a flower!
Sometimes already my heart is a red parrot, perched
among strange, dark trees, flapping and screaming.

Reading of "Reckless Poem"

Commentary

First Versagraph: Outside Myself Today

Today again I am hardly myself.
It happens over and over.
It is heaven-sent.

The speaker in Mary Oliver's "Reckless Poem" suggests that today she is feeling somewhat outside herself, and she reveals that this happens repeatedly and often. But instead of taking a negative tack with this feeling, she deems, "It is heaven-sent."

This feeling allows her to experience consciousness that transcends ordinary waking consciousness: she is not dreaming, nor is she day-dreaming, but she has tapped into a part of herself that whispers from her soul secrets deep from nature.

Second Versagraph: Like a River Flows Through Me

It flows through me
like the blue wave.
Green leaves – you may believe this or not –
have once or twice
emerged from the tips of my fingers

This remarkable, heaven-sent feeling allows her to intuit the space that literally exists throughout the physical body, permitting it to "flow[ ] through [her] / like the blue wave." The imagination, of course, can account for anything or any feeling, but the imagination may also be informed by long-forgotten memories.

This speaker, by working consciously through the imagination, is touching ancient memories of having lived as lower forms of life. To the line "Green leaves you may believe this or not / have once or twice / emerged from the tips of my fingers," she must add the disclaimer of "believe this or not," because she cannot quite believe it herself.

The speaker is not a mystic nor advanced yogi who can remember her past lives, but a creative thinker who can fashion intuitive bursts of reality into poems. She does not remember her past life as a tree, but some mysterious force in her consciousness allows her to intuit vague glimpses of that experience.

Third Versagraph: Strange Knowledge

somewhere
deep in the woods,
in the reckless seizure of spring.

The experience of having green leaves growing "from the tips of [her] fingers" seems like a reckless thing to be claiming; thus she assigns the strange knowledge to a deep dark place: "somewhere / deep in the woods, / in the reckless seizure of spring."

Such thoughts seem crazy, without merit; they seem to emerge from a chaos that may titillate but at the same time frighten. Such thoughts, in fact, do seem "reckless."

Fourth Versagraph: What's With the Crazy Talk?

Though, of course, I also know that other song,
the sweet passion of one-ness.

To further distance her crazy talk of having leaves growing from her fingers, she adds another disclaimer in the form of a proclamation that she also knows "that other song, / the sweet passion of one-ness."

If she has the ability of knowing one-ness, and also how sweet that one-ness is, then no one can accuse her of being out of touch with reality. The speaker not only hopes to convince her readers/listeners of her basic sanity, but she also wants to reassure herself that she is only playing with possibilities, not stating literal reality in any form.

She must do this delicately, however, in order to preserve the sanctity of the poem. If it is too literal, it will fall flat, but if it is too fantastic, it will simply sound unbelievable, causing her audience to have to suspend too much disbelief to follow her.

Fifth Versagraph: The Virtuosity of an Ant

Just yesterday I watched an ant crossing a path, through the
tumbled pine needles she toiled.
And I thought: she will never live another life but this one.
And I thought: if she lives her life with all her strength
is she not wonderful and wise?
And I continued this up the miraculous pyramid of everything
until I came to myself.

The speaker recounts an outing during which she watched an ant. The ant was laboring, as ants are wont to do, and the speaker is impressed with the ant's virtuosity. Then the speaker inserts the apparently rational claim that the ant will never live another life but this one.

But to counter this appalling notion of living only one life, the speaker offers, "if she lives her life with all her strength / is she not wonderful and wise?" This question prompts the speaker to muse on "the miraculous pyramid of everything / until I came to myself." All those marvelous beings have only one life, but if they live them with all their strength, perhaps they are all wonderful and wise.

Sixth Versagraph: Thus, Having Inhabited Many Life Forms

And still, even in these northern woods, on these hills of sand,
I have flown from the other window of myself
to become white heron, blue whale,
red fox, hedgehog.
Oh, sometimes already my body has felt like the body of a flower!
Sometimes already my heart is a red parrot, perched
among strange, dark trees, flapping and screaming.

In the final versagraph, the speaker opens the floodgate of reincarnational intuition. When she signals her final point with, "And still," she is saying, that despite the supposed empirical knowledge that seems to claim that all beings live one life, I have experienced these flashes that tell me otherwise: "I have flown from the other window of myself / to become white heron, blue whale / red fox, hedgehog."

The speaker leaves the commonly held notion of one body, one life and soars in the rarified air of reality that she has inhabited bodies of many other life forms including the body of a flower.

The speaker chooses a remarkable final image: "my heart is a red parrot, perched / among strange, dark trees, flapping and screaming." As a rational intellectual, she cannot literally accept such as the imagination will concoct, but her soul tells her that it has lived many lives in many different forms of life, and it is screaming the truth in her well-tuned ear.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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    • Maya Shedd Temple profile image
      Author

      Linda Sue Grimes 10 months ago from U.S.A.

      Thank you, Shyron. Mary Oliver writes fascinating little ditties, simple yet filled with a meaningful level of human interest. She has a real talent for transforming her experience into poetic drama.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 10 months ago from Texas

      Linda, I very much enjoyed your hub.

      Blessings my friend

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