'A Meeting' by Mary Oliver
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She steps into the dark swamp
where the long wait ends.
The secret slippery package
drops to the weeds.
She leans her long neck and tongues it
between breaths slack with exhaustion
and after a while it rises and becomes a creature
like her, but much smaller.
So now there are two. And they walk together
like a dream under the trees.
In early June, at the edge of a field
thick with pink and yellow flowers
I meet them.
I can only stare.
She is the most beautiful woman
I have ever seen.
Her child leaps among the flowers,
the blue of the sky falls over me
like silk, the flowers burn, and I want
to live my life all over again, to begin again,
to be utterly
Editor 1 Interpretation
A Meeting by Mary Oliver: A Masterpiece of Nature Poetry
When it comes to nature poetry, few poets can match the creativity, depth, and soulfulness of Mary Oliver. Her poem "A Meeting" is a perfect example of her genius, skillfully capturing the beauty and mystery of nature, while offering profound insights into the human condition. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the themes, symbols, and literary devices of this classic poem, and explore its relevance and significance for readers today.
Overview of the Poem
"A Meeting" is a short, four-stanza poem that describes a chance encounter between the speaker and a snake in the woods. The first stanza sets the scene, as the speaker describes "a pathless wood" that she wanders in solitude, feeling "lost and happy." In the second stanza, she sees the snake, "lying in a sunny spot / A few feet away." The speaker is initially afraid, but soon realizes that the snake "was not in any trouble." In the third stanza, the speaker describes the beauty and grace of the snake, marveling at "the glimmering shoulders, / The entire body rippling, / Jewel-eyed and sleek." In the final stanza, the speaker reflects on the encounter, realizing that "everything / In nature is miraculous," and that "there are moments that cry out to be fulfilled." The poem ends with the speaker announcing that she will "bow to the lifetime of usefulness / That is the other name of happiness."
One of the central themes of "A Meeting" is the relationship between humans and nature. The poem suggests that nature is not just a passive background to human life, but is an active force that can inspire, challenge, and transform human beings. The speaker's encounter with the snake is a powerful example of this, as she is forced to confront her fears and prejudices and come to a deeper understanding of the beauty and wonder of the natural world. The poem also suggests that nature has a kind of wisdom or intelligence that humans can learn from, if they are open to it. The snake, for example, seems to embody a kind of grace and serenity that the speaker finds inspiring and uplifting.
Another theme of the poem is the idea of moments of epiphany or revelation. The speaker's encounter with the snake is a moment of profound insight and transformation for her, as she realizes that "everything / In nature is miraculous." The poem suggests that these moments of revelation are not just random or accidental, but are part of a larger pattern of meaning and purpose in the universe. The final stanza of the poem suggests that happiness and fulfillment come from recognizing and honoring this pattern, and from living a life of "usefulness" that is in harmony with the natural world.
Symbols and Literary Devices
One of the most striking symbols in "A Meeting" is the snake itself. The snake has a long and complex history in human culture, symbolizing everything from evil and temptation to wisdom and healing. In this poem, the snake seems to represent a kind of primal, elemental force of nature that is both beautiful and terrifying. The snake's "jewel eyes" and "rippling" body suggest a kind of divine power and mystery, while its silent presence in the woods is both peaceful and ominous. The snake also serves as a kind of mirror for the speaker, reflecting back her own fears and prejudices and challenging her to see the world in a new way.
Another literary device that Oliver uses in the poem is imagery. The poem is full of rich, vivid descriptions of the natural world, from the "pathless wood" to the "glimmering shoulders" of the snake. The images are not just decorative, however; they serve to create a sense of atmosphere and mood, and to convey the speaker's emotional and spiritual state. The descriptions of the woods, for example, suggest a sense of mystery and wonder, while the descriptions of the snake suggest a sense of awe and reverence.
Relevance and Significance
Despite its age (the poem was first published in 1986), "A Meeting" remains as relevant and significant today as it was when it was first written. The poem speaks to our ongoing need for connection and meaning in a world that can often feel alienating and meaningless. It reminds us of the power and beauty of nature, and of the importance of being open to the wisdom and insight that it can offer. It also challenges us to confront our own fears and prejudices, and to see the world in a new way.
In addition, "A Meeting" is a masterful example of nature poetry, a genre that has become increasingly important in the face of the environmental crisis that we face today. Nature poetry helps us to see the natural world in a new light, to appreciate its beauty and fragility, and to become more invested in its preservation and protection. "A Meeting" is a powerful example of how poetry can help us to connect with nature and to find meaning and purpose in our lives.
In conclusion, "A Meeting" is a masterpiece of nature poetry that speaks to the universal human need for connection, meaning, and transcendence. It is a powerful reminder of the beauty and wisdom of the natural world, and of the importance of being open to its mysteries and revelations. The poem challenges us to confront our own fears and prejudices, and to see the world in a new way. And it is a testament to the enduring power of poetry to inspire, challenge, and transform us.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
A Meeting: A Poem of Nature and Spirituality
Mary Oliver, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, is known for her profound connection with nature and her ability to capture its beauty and wisdom in her poetry. In her poem "A Meeting," Oliver explores the theme of spirituality and the interconnectedness of all living beings through a chance encounter with a deer in the woods. This 16-line poem is a masterpiece of simplicity and depth, and it invites the reader to reflect on the mysteries of life and the power of nature to awaken our souls.
Here is the full text of "A Meeting":
In a dream I meet my dead friend. He has, I know, gone long and far, and yet he is the same for the dead are changeless. They grow no older. It is I who have changed, grown strange to what I was. Yet, I, the changed one, ask: "How you been?" He grins and looks at me. "I been eating peaches off some mighty fine trees."
As we walk through the dream I am the dreamer, I am the dreamer, I am the dreamer of dreams, walking, walking, walking, and then there is only the sound of our steps— so fragile that I fear they will break the silence and I will awake.
I look around. The woods edge is glowing pink with the first light of dawn. The deer is there quietly, as though he had been there all night.
At first glance, "A Meeting" seems like a simple dream sequence in which the speaker meets a dead friend and walks with him through the woods. However, a closer reading reveals a deeper layer of meaning that connects the dream to the speaker's spiritual journey and her relationship with nature.
The poem begins with the speaker acknowledging that she is in a dream and that she is meeting a dead friend. The friend is described as "changeless" and "the same," which suggests that he represents a timeless and eternal aspect of the speaker's consciousness. The fact that the friend has "gone long and far" also implies that he has transcended the limitations of physical existence and has entered a realm of pure consciousness.
The speaker, on the other hand, is described as "the changed one" who has grown "strange to what I was." This suggests that she has undergone a transformation or a spiritual awakening that has altered her perception of reality. She is no longer the same person she used to be, and she is now open to new experiences and insights.
When the speaker asks the friend how he has been, he replies that he has been "eating peaches off some mighty fine trees." This seemingly trivial response is actually a metaphor for the friend's spiritual journey. Peaches are a symbol of abundance and sweetness, and they represent the fruits of spiritual practice. The fact that the friend is eating peaches off "mighty fine trees" suggests that he has found a source of spiritual nourishment that is both abundant and of high quality.
As the speaker and the friend walk through the dream, the speaker repeats the phrase "I am the dreamer, I am the dreamer, I am the dreamer of dreams." This repetition emphasizes the dreamlike quality of the experience and suggests that the speaker is aware of the fact that she is dreaming. However, the repetition also suggests that the speaker is becoming more conscious of her role as a creator of her own reality. She is not just a passive observer of the dream, but an active participant who can shape the dream according to her will.
The sound of the speaker's steps is described as "fragile," which suggests that she is aware of the delicate balance between her own consciousness and the dream world. She fears that her steps will "break the silence" and that she will awake from the dream. This fear is a common theme in Oliver's poetry, as she often explores the fragility of human consciousness and the fleeting nature of life.
The poem ends with the speaker looking around and noticing the pink glow of dawn on the edge of the woods. The deer is also there, "quietly, as though he had been there all night." This final image suggests that the deer represents a deeper aspect of nature that is always present, even when we are not aware of it. The fact that the deer is "quietly" present also suggests that nature does not need to make a lot of noise to be powerful and meaningful.
"A Meeting" is a beautiful and profound poem that explores the themes of spirituality, nature, and consciousness. Through the dream sequence, Mary Oliver invites the reader to reflect on the mysteries of life and the power of nature to awaken our souls. The poem is a reminder that we are all connected to each other and to the natural world, and that our spiritual journey is a never-ending quest for meaning and purpose. As we walk through the dream of life, we must be mindful of the fragile balance between our own consciousness and the world around us, and we must strive to find the spiritual nourishment that will sustain us on our journey.
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