WINTER HOURS by Mary Oliver


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NBA” and Pulitzer—winning Oliver takes a pedantic turn with this new collection of poetry, prose, and essays. The cumulative effect is an Emersonian Letters to a Young Poet that is lovely but grandstanding. In the essay “Sister Turtle,” Oliver writes of how she broke her vegetarianism. Here, as in many of the pieces, she celebrates her genteel ethical system even as she rebels against it. Of her herbivore’s life, she writes: “But I am devoted to Nature too, and to consider Nature without this appetite—this other-creature-consuming appetite—is to look with shut eyes upon the miraculous interchange that makes things work . . . . “ In another prose piece, “The Swan,” Oliver strikes a similarly highfalutin” pose: “I want each poem to indicate a life lived with intelligence, patience, passion, and whimsy . . . . ” Such self-loving attitudes, however, don’t submerge her considerable gifts as an observer of nature. In one selection, she describes a scallop snapping its way through the water as it “gazes around with its dozens of pale blue eyes.” In another, she tells of the honeysuckle “in a moist rage” near the old burn dump. “Sand Dabs,” a series of aphorisms that Oliver began in an earlier book, has gleaming, Schegelian truisms (“Words are wood”) offset by bromides that might be embroidered on pillows (“Does the grain of sand / Know it is a grain of sand?”). Also included are several short essays on Frost, Hopkins, Poe, and Whitman, pieces that, unfortunately, resemble a schoolteacher’s lessons more than a literary critic’s elucidation. All in all, a pompous, pleasant ragbag.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1999
ISBN: 0-395-85084-3
Page count: 128pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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