'Aunt Leaf' by Mary Oliver
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Twelve MoonsNeeding one, I invented her -
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.Dear aunt, I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker -
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish - and all day we'd travel.At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float backscattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;or she'd slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;or she'd hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Aunt Leaf: An Analysis of Mary Oliver's Poem
Mary Oliver is known for her beautiful and contemplative poetry, which often revolves around nature and spirituality. In her poem "Aunt Leaf," Oliver takes a simple leaf and turns it into a powerful symbol of life, aging, and death. Through her vivid descriptions and poignant imagery, Oliver explores the cycle of life and the inevitability of change.
Analysis of the Poem
The poem starts with the speaker addressing the leaf as "Aunt." This personification gives the leaf a sense of familiarity and warmth, as if it were a beloved family member. The speaker then proceeds to describe the leaf in detail, using a series of metaphors to convey its beauty and fragility:
"Aunt Leaf has fallen from the tree and is lying on the cold ground. All winter long she has hung there, the patient frost, with its fine sleet, has woven the transparent ice into her ribs, in whose cradle she rocked herself to sleep."
Oliver's use of personification and vivid imagery immediately draws the reader in, making us feel as if we are right there with the leaf, experiencing its journey from the tree to the ground. The phrase "the patient frost" evokes a sense of stillness and quiet, as if time itself has slowed down to observe the leaf's descent.
As the poem progresses, the speaker continues to describe the leaf's physical characteristics in detail:
"But now the sun shines in her belly, her hair glistens in the wind; and a tongue of the honest earth touches her sweet skin, and her bowels stir with the sap again."
Here, the leaf is described as having a "belly" and "hair," which are both organic, human-like qualities. The use of the word "honest" to describe the earth suggests a sense of purity and authenticity, as if the earth itself is a living, breathing entity. The phrase "stir with the sap again" emphasizes the cyclical nature of life, suggesting that the leaf is beginning a new cycle of growth and renewal.
Oliver then shifts her focus to the idea of aging and death:
"But how shall I speak of the passing of the leaf? The horror, the horror! The new white snow leaning against the door, the new year with its white eyes peering through the window like a lost dog looking in out of the cold.
The phrase "how shall I speak" suggests a sense of uncertainty and apprehension, as if the speaker is struggling to find the words to describe the leaf's inevitable demise. The use of the word "horror" emphasizes the sense of loss and sadness that comes with aging and death. The image of the new snow and the new year both suggest a sense of renewal and rebirth, but also a sense of distance and separation from what has come before.
The final lines of the poem tie everything together, bringing the poem full circle:
"But Aunt Leaf, dear aunt, is dead— the only witness to her life and death was the tree." And I remember the tree is still alive, and I think: Oh, how many times have I leaned against this tree looking into its branches and down into the shadows? And what a secretary I am to it, taking down its every word!"
Here, the speaker acknowledges the leaf's passing, but also recognizes the tree's continuing life and the ongoing cycle of growth and renewal. The phrase "dear aunt" suggests a sense of affection and fondness for the leaf, even in death. The final line, "And what a secretary I am to it, taking down its every word!" suggests a sense of humility and reverence, as if the speaker is in awe of the tree's wisdom and insight.
Interpretation of the Poem
At its core, "Aunt Leaf" is a meditation on the cycle of life and the inevitable passage of time. Through her use of vivid imagery and powerful metaphors, Oliver encourages the reader to contemplate their own mortality and the fleeting nature of life. The leaf serves as a powerful symbol of this transience, reminding us of the impermanence of all things.
At the same time, Oliver emphasizes the beauty and value of life, even in its final moments. The leaf is described as having a "sweet skin" and "glistening hair," reminding us that even in death, there is something to be celebrated and admired. The imagery of the tree provides a sense of continuity and stability, suggesting that even as we age and change, there are things that endure and remain constant.
Overall, "Aunt Leaf" is a powerful and poignant poem that speaks to the universal human experience of aging, death, and renewal. Through her artful use of language and imagery, Mary Oliver encourages us to embrace the fleeting nature of life and find beauty in even the most ordinary and seemingly insignificant things.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Aunt Leaf by Mary Oliver: A Poetic Ode to Nature
Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, is known for her profound love for nature and her ability to capture its essence in her poetry. One of her most beloved poems, "Aunt Leaf," is a beautiful ode to the changing seasons and the cycle of life. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in this classic poem.
Before we dive into the analysis, let's take a moment to read the poem in its entirety:
Aunt Leaf by Mary Oliver Needing one, I invented her – the great-great-aunt dark as hickory called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud or The-Beauty-of-the-Night. Dear aunt, I’d call into the leaves, and she’d rise up, like an old log in a pool, and whisper in a language only the two of us knew the word that meant follow, and we’d travel cherishing the old, the burnished, the secret ones that only knew how to take time and extend it beyond all the borders of the world we knew: into this wider world where all the trees stood older and stronger, wearing their long, bitter knowing like a bruise or a crown. And where we, who had been perpetually surprised, were never surprised again. Not by the nights, by the hospitable dark, by the desire to celebrate, by the surprised bottomlands or the way the river kept its secrets forever. But by the trails we had taken, by the mountains we had climbed, by the rivers in which we had bathed, and by the cities we had seen, where once again we failed to recognize our own brothers and sisters.
At its core, "Aunt Leaf" is a poem about the cyclical nature of life and the beauty of the changing seasons. The poem is also about the power of imagination and the ability to create our own realities. The speaker of the poem invents her own great-great-aunt, who becomes a companion on her journey through life. Together, they explore the world around them, cherishing the old and the secret, and extending time beyond the borders of the world they know.
The poem also touches on the idea of perception and how our experiences shape the way we see the world. The speaker notes that after their travels, they were "never surprised again" by the nights, the hospitable dark, or the desire to celebrate. They had seen and experienced so much that nothing could surprise them anymore. However, they were still surprised by the fact that they failed to recognize their own brothers and sisters in the cities they visited. This suggests that even though we may see and experience many things in life, our perceptions of the people around us may still be limited.
One of the most striking aspects of "Aunt Leaf" is the vivid imagery that Oliver uses to describe the natural world. The poem is filled with sensory details that transport the reader to a world of rustling leaves, rushing rivers, and towering mountains. For example, in the opening lines, the speaker describes her great-great-aunt as "dark as hickory," which immediately conjures up an image of a strong, sturdy tree. The aunt is also given several names, including "Shining-Leaf," "Drifting-Cloud," and "The-Beauty-of-the-Night," which all evoke different aspects of nature.
Throughout the poem, Oliver uses imagery to explore the theme of the changing seasons. The speaker and her aunt travel through the world, cherishing the old and the secret, and experiencing the beauty of the natural world in all its forms. They see trees that are "older and stronger, wearing their long, bitter knowing like a bruise or a crown." They bathe in rivers and climb mountains, experiencing the full range of nature's beauty.
Oliver's language in "Aunt Leaf" is simple and direct, yet it is also rich with meaning. She uses repetition and alliteration to create a musical quality to the poem. For example, the phrase "the old, the burnished, the secret" is repeated twice in the poem, emphasizing the importance of these qualities to the speaker and her aunt. The phrase "perpetually surprised" is also repeated, highlighting the idea that the speaker and her aunt were constantly amazed by the world around them.
Oliver also uses metaphor and personification to bring the natural world to life. The trees are described as wearing their "long, bitter knowing like a bruise or a crown," which suggests that they have endured many hardships and have gained wisdom as a result. The river is personified as keeping its secrets forever, which adds to the sense of mystery and wonder that permeates the poem.
In conclusion, "Aunt Leaf" is a beautiful and evocative poem that celebrates the beauty of the natural world and the cyclical nature of life. Through vivid imagery and simple yet powerful language, Mary Oliver transports the reader to a world of rustling leaves, rushing rivers, and towering mountains. The poem is a testament to the power of imagination and the ability to create our own realities. It is also a reminder that even though we may see and experience many things in life, our perceptions of the people around us may still be limited. "Aunt Leaf" is a classic poem that will continue to inspire and delight readers for generations to come.
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