Study Guide

Flare Sadness

By Mary Oliver

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The speaker of "Flare" has a pretty deep understanding of grief, sorrow, misery—of all sorts of sadness, really. She knows that grief is unavoidable and advises us to let it be our sister. Despite this, or because of it, she urges us to rise up from our sorrow, to turn away from the graveyard where we keep the losses of our past, and be lively and exuberant.

Questions About Sadness

  1. Is it strange that the speaker—though she talks about the sadness of others and perhaps suggests that her childhood was at times a struggle—never speaks directly about experiencing sadness herself? What can we make of that? Isn't she ever bummed out? Or does she always have nature to keep her from falling down in the dumps?
  2. How does time relate to our speaker's views on sadness? Is there a difference between feeling sad at the moment of loss (or shortly after) and carrying that sadness around for decades?
  3. How should we understand our speaker's suggestion that we let grief be our sister? How does that square with her urging us to move on and be exuberant? Is it possible to do both?

Chew on This

Though our speaker seems to want to tell us that moving on from sorrow can be done rather simply, through determination and paying attention to the natural world, the way she keeps circling and repeating this idea shows that, on some level, she is aware that it is not simple at all.

We don't buy it. The natural world isn't a cure all for sadness. It's merely an escape.

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