by Mary Oliver
Section 12 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,
like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.
- Here our speaker kind of enacts what she's telling us to do. She tells us to notice natural things, and then she suggests some possibilities. But they're far too specific to be things we might have a chance to notice.
- Could it be that she once noticed the "tambourine sound of the snow-cricket"? And when she mentions that thumb, is she really talking about her own digit?
- So she's telling us to notice stuff by sharing what she herself has noticed. And that firsthand account is much more convincing than any generalizations (notice the mountains! notice trees!) could be. We mean, aren't you just dying to go out and have your own beautiful experience in nature? Shmoop sure is.
Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.
- We're definitely noticing a trend here: "notice" and "stare." And once again, her descriptions are super specific and chock-full of figurative language.
- Here she wants us to take a good long look at a hummingbird, which is "shaking the water-sparks from its wings." The imagery is natural (surprise surprise), but it's also got this cool combo of opposites: water-sparks. How can water spark? Well it can't, but it can figuratively when tiny droplets catch the sunlight.
- Who couldn't "stare hard" at something so beautiful?
- That "hard" emphasizes a sort of intensity; there's a purposefulness to the staring that shows us that the speaker is urging us not to just sit around with a blank look on our faces, zoning out. She wants us to be aware. And to be aware that we're aware, to boot.
Let grief be your sister, she will whether or no.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.
- More advice from our sage-like speaker. Grasshoppers, she says, you really should stop giving grief so much grief. Let her into the family. After all, she's going to bug you no matter what you do.
- By allowing grief to be your sister, the speaker says, you metaphorically let grief be a part of your life—you create a partnership, rather than a rivalry. And since we're all bound to experience our fair share of grief in life, this seems like a good idea.
- Certainly better than eating our feelings with a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Although that's cool, too.
- Not only should we let grief in, we should also remember to rise up afterwards. Sure, you can be sad, but you shouldn't let it take over your life, our speaker says.
- So what should we do instead? Be green, of course. No, she's not telling us to recycle (although we wouldn't put it past her). We think green is more figurative here, as in, be one with the earth and all its natural goodness.
- But, as Kermit says, it's not easy being green. It takes hard work. You have to be "diligent."
- Why's that? Well, we've already established that connecting to the natural world is all part and parcel of being engaged and open-minded, which is something our speaker is all about. But mindfulness and awareness, which go hand in hand with being green, is not always easy. It takes enormous amounts of concentration and effort.
A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.
- … There's a lot to pay attention to, and that makes being green hard as well. Here, the speaker tells us that there's so much awesomeness in the world that you couldn't possibly notice it all in a lifetime, try as you might.
- After all, we're super busy with the stuff we simply have to do, like filling out tax returns or putting food on the table, or going to the dentist twice a year.
- Cramming all that into one life is no easy feat…
Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.
- … So we should really cut ourselves some slack. We need to let go of the past—its griefs, mistakes, and messes, and keep on trucking, our speaker says.She urges us to do what she did with the memory of her parents: pay our respects to what's been lost, then move on.
- Our speaker tells us to be exuberant (full of joy), in an untidy and good-natured way. This lady should really write a self-help book, if we may say so. She's got this whole straightforward-and-direct thing going on. She tells it like it is.
- And here's the deal: it's a-okay if we're a little loosey-goosey, if we make a mess in our joy. Joy isn't supposed to be neat and orderly.
- We guess she wants us not only to take in the living world around us, but to bring some life of our own into the world. Maybe we can make our own beautiful imagery to notice, à la the hummingbird and the cricket.
In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.
Live with the beetle, and the wind.
- The speaker wants us to be modest and grateful for the things we can touch, which give us pleasure.
- The "glare" of the mind contrasts with the "dark fields" from Section 10. Maybe we've now risen from the stump of sorrow and let the world in. Our minds are no longer places of darkness; they're filled with light. Sweet.
- Or maybe the glare isn't a good thing. After all, glare makes it hard to see, like sun in your eyes. So maybe we should be modest because we can't really see what's in front of us—our minds are too busy being petty and hung up on the past.
- In that case, the speaker may be making a contrast between the mind and "what is tactile," between thoughts and the solid things we can touch. She wants us to be grateful for the physical world. If we really pay attention to it, it will thrill us.
- This takes us back to the first section of the poem, where we saw a beetle and the branches and blossoms of a catalpa tree shaking in the wind.
- Again, the speaker is emphasizing the need to be aware of these things, to participate fully in the natural world.
This is the dark bread of the poem.
This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem.
- Finally! Instead of telling us what the poem isn't, our speaker finally coughs up what the poem is. Or at least, what it's made of.
- She tells us that this, which we take to mean all of the advice she's so kindly given us in this section, is the "dark and nourishing bread of the poem."
- In other words, all that advice is really good for you, so you should down it with a spoonful of sugar, and then live it every day of your life. That's what our speaker wants us to do.
- This series of suggestions, this representation of the world and the celebration of it, is the nourishment that the poem provides.
- Dark bread also sounds a lot like comfort food to Shmoop, which might explain why our speaker called this poem comforting way back at the beginning. We feel all cozy and awesome now—full of delicious bread-advice and ready to go out and be green. Shall we?