A Woman Defined

Art & Culture by Mahvash Mossaed
The Leaf and the Cloud by Mary Oliver

Book Review: “The Leaf and the Cloud” by Mary Oliver

January 25, 2022

The Leaf and the Cloud by Mary Oliver
The Leaf and the Cloud by Mary Oliver

I have been keeping the book of poetry by Mary Oliver,  “The Leaf and the Cloud,”  for a while now, open, on my kitchen counter, on my dining room, and on my night stand. I turn its pages, read them, and re-read them daily, like a prayer. I ask myself, Could it really be true, that I am falling in love with Mary Oliver’s poetry? Is her name officially being added to the list of my literary giants favorites, like Bukowski , Dickinson, Lorca and a few others?  The answer is quite simple: yes. The proof is that lately, I am reading her poetry on a daily basis. She has become my imaginary friend, my constant companion. Reading her poetry is like attending the church of literature and reading from a sacred scripture. I understand that I have to be patient while reading her poetry. I have to let the poet talk and elaborate about nature, the sky, the butterflies, and flowers as she desires. Those are, after all, supposed to be every poet’s tools and means of connection with me as the reader. 

I am touching a few leaves.
I am noticing the way the yellow butterflies
move together, in a twinkling cloud, over the field.

And I am thinking: maybe just looking and listening
is the real work.

Maybe the world, without us,
is the real poem.

The sailboat,
the dragger swaying above its heavy nets,
the pink dory crossing the bay with two boys and a dog.

I’m never sure
which part of this dream is me
and which part is the rest of the world.

I am with her all the way. Her beautiful imagery helps me see without closing my eyes. I am grateful that she has allowed me to walk in and find shelter in her delicate world. When my own world gets messy, unsafe, and cold, that’s where I would be residing for a while until the the sky is sunny again.

Also the poem on the page,
also the painting on the white wall;
also the instruments and the arms holding them
and the voices issuing from them.

The turnip, the cabbage, the crook-necked squash;
the three blue bowls;
the fork and the knife.

Just the other day, when I was reading Mary Oliver’s poetry and as I glanced at her bio in the inside sleeve of the cover of her book, it all dawned on me — the very fact that this magnificent soul is not amongst us anymore; the fact that Mary Oliver had already passed away in January 2019, not even too long ago. 

I put the book down and murmured to myself. Why do I feel so sad for her passing? It’s as though I knew her well. Now, I thought, I should even more so, take my time to read every page meditatively. Give space in the silence of my mind, every phrase, every word of it, and search for their real effect and meaning in my heart. Let it be absorbed by my thoughts; let it be examined, analyzed, categorized, and archived in the hidden drawers of my intellect.

As I turn the pages of the book, it occurs to me that I cannot possibly disrespect Mary Oliver’s words by reading them fast. Nor can I allow myself to read the whole book in an hour or so, even though I can, when I know it must have taken her years to write this book, when I know that the book I am reading is the testament of the poet’s soulful adventures and connection to nature itself, portraying nature as her element.

what does it mean, that the world is beautiful –
what does it mean?

The child asks this,
and the determined, laboring adult asks this –

both the carpenter and the scholar ask this,
and the fisherman and the teacher;

both the rich and the poor ask this
(maybe the poor more than the rich)

and the old and the very old, not yet having figured it out, ask this

standing beside the golden-coated field rock,
or the tumbling water,
or under the stars –

what does it mean?

When I think of Mary Oliver, the poet, I see her as this woman wandering in nature with an angel sitting on her shoulder while whispering sacred words in her ears, and she magically translates these poetic whispers coming to her from a mystical, invisible god into words. She spreads those words like a fragmented breeze amongst us to use as soft, warm blanket in our dark cold winter days. She is simply awesome. 


Mary Oliver is one of America’s most significant and best-selling poets. Born in 1935 in Cleveland, Ohio, and raised in nearby Maple Heights, Mary Oliver passed away on January 17, 2019.Mary Oliver’s books of poetry include: No Voyage and Other Poems (1963); The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems (1972); Twelve Moons (1979); American Primitive (1983); Dream Work (1986); House of Light (1990); New and Selected Poems (1992); White Pine (1994); West Wind (1997); The Leaf and the Cloud (2000); What Do We Know(2002); Owls and Other Fantasies (2003); Why I Wake Early (2004); Blue Iris (2004); Wild Geese: Selected Poems (2004); New and Selected Poems, Volume Two (2005); Thirst (2006); Red Bird (2008); The Truro Bear and Other Adventures (2008); Evidence (2009); Swan (2010); A Thousand Mornings (2012); Dog Songs (2013); Blue Horses (2014); Felicity (2015); and, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver(2017).Mary Oliver’s prose works include: A Poetry Handbook (1994); Blue Pastures (1995); Rules for the Dance (1998); Winter Hours (1999); Long Life (2004); Our World with Molly Malone Cook (2007); and, Upstream: Selected Essays (2016).Among her many honors are the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for American Primitive and the National Book Award in 1992 for New and Selected Poetry. She was awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, American Academy of Arts and Letters Achievement Award. Other awards include the Lannan Literary Award, Christopher and L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award, Poetry Society of America’s Shelly Memorial Prize, and the Pioneer Award from the Santa Monica Public Library Green Prize for Sustainable Literature.She received Honorary Doctorates from The Art Institute of Boston, Dartmouth College, Marquette University, and Tufts University. She taught at many colleges and universities, including: Case Western Reserve University; Bennington College, where she held the Catherine Osgood Foster Chair For Distinguished Teaching; Bucknell University; and, Sweet Briar College, where she was Margaret Banister Writer in Residence.

Taken from https://maryoliver.com/

Tags: , , , ,

Posted in Book Reviews, Reviews |

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box