Study Guide

Flare Literature and Writing

By Mary Oliver

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Literature and Writing

"Flare" explores the way poetry relates to the world, while being, itself, a poem. Nifty, no? What can we say? It's a complicated relationship: a poem is not the things it refers to—it is not the world—and yet it has a sort of living spark and can teach us about the world. The speaker also muses on poetry's purpose. It can be a source of comfort, she tells us, and can help you feel "less yourself than part of everything." Bonus.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. What exactly is the relationship between poetry and the world it describes, according to the speaker? How can you tell?
  2. What effect does it have when the speaker welcomes us to the poem? Why do you think she does this, and how does it change how we read the poem?
  3. What does the speaker mean when she says that poems want to open, and they know that much? What does this tell us about the relationship between poetry and its subject matter?

Chew on This

Although we might think that being reminded that we are reading a poem would take us out of the poem and make it less engaging, somehow the opposite is true here. By defining the poem in her strange way, and distinguishing it from the things it describes, our speaker in fact increases the sense of connection we feel between ourselves, the poem, and the world it describes.

The poem's most effective poetic moments are when it's describing the natural world using figurative language. When it's talking to us, we're mostly just annoyed.

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