by Mary Oliver
Past Versus Present
In this poem there's a sort of tension between remembering and mourning the past and experiencing the present. Our speaker is clearly a fan of paying respect to the past, then moving firmly on to focus our time and attention on what's right in front of us, right at that moment.
- Section 2: This whole section feels kind of like an allegory. We might call it a look back at the past, at the loss of childhood innocence. There's a peacefulness, a sense of communion or connection with the animals, and a religious or spiritual feel to the place. And we're told we feel we could stay forever. But then there's a pang of hunger, of desire, which leads us out of the place and to the world of people as we know it. Similarly, in the story of Eden, Eden is a place man could have stayed in forever in peace and communion with God and nature. Instead, our desire for the fruit from the tree of knowledge took us out of that idyllic place and into the world as we know it.
- Section 6, Lines 10-11: That "kiss of complicity" seems like a symbol that blends together the past and present. If our speaker were to give her parents this kiss, it would mean letting her past, her experiences with her parents, determine her life and how she feels. By refusing to give it, she's asserting her control over her own life and happiness.
- Section 12, Lines 4-5: We wouldn't call line 4 all-out personification, but it definitely has a hint of it. Using that world "tambourine" makes it sound like the cricket is playing an instrument, the way a person would. And the simile in line 5, comparing the cricket's size to our thumb, makes the cricket seem a bit more human. So what does this have to do with past and present? Well, this attention to detail, and this connection between us and the natural world, is all about the present moment. Our speaker feels that once we stop mourning the past, we can more fully connect with the present world, as demonstrated by this engagement with the snow cricket.