'The Swan' by Mary Oliver
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Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
Editor 1 Interpretation
The Beauty and Serenity of Nature in Mary Oliver’s “The Swan”
Oh, Mary Oliver, you have done it again! Your poem “The Swan” is a masterpiece of nature poetry that captures the beauty and serenity of the natural world. From the opening lines to the final stanza, you weave a tapestry of imagery and emotion that leaves the reader breathless and in awe of the majesty of the natural world.
The Opening Lines
The opening lines of “The Swan” are simple and direct, yet they set the tone for the entire poem:
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river? Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air - An armful of white blossoms, A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned into the bondage of its wings;
The first question immediately draws the reader in, as if Oliver is speaking directly to us, asking us if we too witnessed the beauty of the swan. The second question intensifies the imagery, as we can almost see the swan rising into the air, its wings unfolding like a piece of silk, its body a perfect mixture of white blossoms and linen.
The Beauty of the Swan
As the poem continues, Oliver delves deeper into the beauty of the swan, describing its movements, its grace, and its majesty:
And, in the pond, the sumptuous, regal water continues to splash and lavish on its amazing creature all the scalloped and divided riches of summer and of summer's passing.
The swan becomes an “amazing creature,” regal and sumptuous, the recipient of all the riches of summer. Oliver’s use of the words “scalloped and divided” conjure up images of delicate lace, further emphasizing the delicacy and beauty of the swan.
The Serenity of the Natural World
Throughout “The Swan,” Oliver emphasizes the serenity of the natural world, using the swan as a symbol of peace and tranquility. She writes:
And it floats away over the water, and the hills darken suddenly. On the shore, a crowd of people has gathered, tinged with longing and love, harmless and unfulfilled;
The swan’s departure causes the hills to darken, but the people who witness it are tinged with longing and love, harmless and unfulfilled. Oliver seems to be suggesting that the beauty of nature can cause us to feel a sense of longing, but that this longing is harmless and ultimately unfulfilled.
The Importance of Nature
One of the most powerful themes of “The Swan” is the importance of nature in our lives. Oliver writes:
Every morning I walk like this around the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart ever close, I am as good as dead.
For Oliver, walking around the pond and experiencing the beauty of nature is a vital part of her life. If the doors of her heart ever close, she feels as though she is as good as dead. This underscores the importance of nature in our lives, and the need to appreciate its beauty and serenity.
Mary Oliver’s “The Swan” is a masterpiece of nature poetry that captures the beauty and serenity of the natural world. Through her use of vivid imagery and powerful language, Oliver evokes a sense of awe and wonder in the reader, reminding us of the importance of nature in our lives. As we read “The Swan,” we are transported to a world of peace and tranquility, where the beauty of the natural world reigns supreme.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
The Swan by Mary Oliver: A Poem of Beauty and Transcendence
Mary Oliver’s poem, The Swan, is a masterpiece of poetic expression that captures the beauty and transcendence of nature. The poem is a celebration of the swan, a majestic bird that symbolizes grace, elegance, and purity. Through her vivid imagery and lyrical language, Oliver takes us on a journey of discovery, inviting us to explore the hidden depths of the natural world and the mysteries of life itself.
The poem begins with a simple observation of the swan, as it glides across the water with effortless grace. Oliver describes the bird as a “creature of white” that moves “over the water / like a wave”. The swan’s movements are compared to those of a wave, suggesting a sense of fluidity and continuity that is both mesmerizing and hypnotic. The swan’s beauty is further emphasized by its “long neck” and “feathery feet”, which seem to dance across the water’s surface.
As the poem progresses, Oliver delves deeper into the swan’s essence, exploring its inner world and the emotions it evokes. She describes the swan as a “singer” whose voice is “like the perfect instrument / on which we hear, below the water’s surface, / the irrefutable complaint of the world”. Here, Oliver suggests that the swan’s song is not just a beautiful sound, but a powerful expression of the natural world’s pain and suffering. The swan’s voice is a reminder of the fragility of life and the need to cherish and protect the natural world.
Oliver’s use of language is particularly striking in this section of the poem. She employs a series of metaphors and similes to convey the swan’s essence, comparing it to a “white flower” and a “single pearl”. These images evoke a sense of purity and perfection, suggesting that the swan is a symbol of transcendence and spiritual enlightenment.
The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as Oliver brings the swan’s journey to a close and reflects on its significance. She writes:
“And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything? And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for? And have you changed your life?”
These lines are a call to action, a reminder that the beauty of the natural world is not just something to be admired, but something to be cherished and protected. Oliver suggests that the swan’s journey is a metaphor for our own journey through life, and that we too must strive to find meaning and purpose in the world around us.
Overall, The Swan is a poem of great beauty and depth, a celebration of the natural world and the mysteries of life. Oliver’s use of language is masterful, evoking a sense of wonder and awe that is both inspiring and humbling. The poem is a reminder that we are all part of a greater whole, and that the beauty of the natural world is a gift that we must cherish and protect.
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