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by Mary Oliver

Section 11 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-4

there was no barn.
No child in the barn.
No uncle no table no kitchen.

  • Way to pull the rug out from under us, speaker. What do you mean there's no barn and no kiddo? They were just there in section 2, weren't they?
  • What's this all about? Well, we've already seen that words, no matter how hard they try, cannot be the things they represent. But that separation between words and the world also means that we can write things that never actually happened. The poem makes its own world. 
  • So maybe the speaker made it all up. Maybe it really was just a story after all. Which raises the question: is the story of the child in the barn any less interesting or meaningful because it didn't "happen" in real life?

Line 5

Only a long lovely field full of bobolinks.

  • Shmoopers, what, on God's green earth, is a bobolink?
  • Well, after a wee bit of Googling, we can tell you that it's a small blackbird, and not an a capella group at Middlebury College.
  • So what does this mean, that there was no barn, child, uncle, table, kitchen—just a lovely field of birds? 
  • For one thing, we're back to nature again. The speaker's (fake) memory from section 2 has been replaced by a natural scene. Hey, it's better than a graveyard.
  • It could be in line with what we were saying about the way a poem, and language itself, works. You can say, "There's a house in a field." Then you can say "No, there's no house in the field. There's a cheetah on a jeep." It's your poem, so you can do whatever you want. 
  • But maybe there's a whole other way to understand this. Maybe she's saying, forget the whole parable of innocence and hunger. There is only the world and its loveliness. Memories don't matter much when you think about it that way. 
  • This could be another way of urging us to focus our attention on the world (particularly the natural world) instead of lingering on loss or the past (real or imagined).

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