by Mary Oliver
Flare Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Section.Line)
The poem is not the world.
It isn't even the first page of the world. (8.1-2)
Here our speaker states outright what we gathered she was saying when she told us that the poem is not the sunrise, the beetle, or the mockingbird. By adding that the poem isn't "even the first page of the world," she makes it even clearer—the poem is its own thing. Sure it might exist in the world as marks on a page, or sounds coming from our mouths, but the words and meanings really only exist in our minds. It's like a shadow world, which we kind of base off the real world, but which has its own life. Head spinning?
It wants to open itself,
like the door of a little temple,
so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed,
and less yourself than part of everything. (8.5-8)
Just because the poem isn't the world doesn't mean it doesn't have life in it. So how does a poem want something? We think it has to do with the way many poets feel that poetry takes on a life and a will of its own. They can't bend a poem to their will, or at least it won't be a very good poem if they try. Some poets express the experience of writing a poem as submission to it, as if there is a truth or quality that wants expressing and they are simply (if they're lucky) able to uncover it.
This is the dark bread of the poem.
This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem. (12.18-19)
So the last word of the last line is the same as the last word of the first line: poem. Coincidence? Probably not. Our speaker is definitely concerned with this poetry business. We guess she figures that if we're going to be reading poems, we ought to be concerned with what they are and what they can do. As for "dark bread," we think that means the core, the kernel, the important part. Bread, after all, is one of the most basic forms of food or sustenance. So the core, the nourishing part, of the poem might be what the speaker conveys in the line before: "Live with the beetle and the wind."