Selected Essays

Book - 2016
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"'In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.' So begins Upstream, a collection of essays in which beloved poet Mary Oliver reflects on her willingness, as a young child and as an adult, to lose herself within the beauty and mysteries of both the natural world and the world of literature. Emphasizing the significance of her childhood 'friend' Walt Whitman, through whose work she first understood that a poem is a temple, 'a place to enter, and in which to feel,' and who encouraged her to vanish into the world of her writing, Oliver meditates on the forces that allowed her to create a life for herself out of work and love. As she writes, 'I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.' Upstream follows Oliver as she contemplates the pleasure of artistic labor, her boundless curiosity for the flora and fauna that surround her, and the responsibility she has inherited from Shelley, Wordsworth, Emerson, Poe, and Frost, the great thinkers and writers of the past, to live thoughtfully, intelligently, and to observe with passion. Throughout this collection, Oliver positions not just herself upstream but us as well as she encourages us all to keep moving, to lose ourselves in the awe of the unknown, and to give power and time to the creative and whimsical urges that live within us"--
Publisher: New York :, Penguin Press,, 2016.
ISBN: 9781594206702
Branch Call Number: 814.54 Oliver 10/2016
Characteristics: 178 pages ;,22 cm


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Upstream follows Oliver as she contemplates the pleasure of artistic labor, her boundless curiosity for the flora and fauna that surround her, and the responsibility she has inherited from Shelley, Wordsworth, Emerson, Poe, and Frost, the great thinkers and writers of the past, to live thoughtful... Read More »

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Jul 03, 2018

Taking in many inputs, each carrying their own momentum, Mary Oliver spins her own webs and makes her own sense. Entertaining stories, told well. Surprises in human living. Inspiring. Curious. I especially like her words on creativity and expression on admiration of others before her; and essays Sister Turtle and Swoon.

DBRL_IdaF Dec 04, 2017

"The beauty and strangeness of the world may fill the eyes with its cordial refreshment. Equally it may offer the heart a dish of terror. On one side is radiance; on another is the abyss."

This is a book of essays about nature and writing and the nature of writing, and life and the nature of life. Also work and creation. It's a slim book, but I took several days to read it, taking it one essay at a time and letting each soak in before going on to the next.

Fans of Oliver's nature observations will find plenty here. But there are also several literary essays where she discusses writers who have influenced her -- Whitman, Poe, Wadsworth. Oliver brings the same keen gaze to literature that she does to trees and geese and dogs, looking deeply into the essence of the writing and how it fits into the web of all things.

I would have given the book five stars, except for one small part where she says nobody should be angry at a creative person for running late or missing a date altogether. This is one of my pet peeves. I hate being stood up. I hate broken promises. I guess I discovered that not even my favorite writers are perfect human beings. And if nothing else, at least that passage in the book made me look within myself to ask why I reacted so strongly.

Jul 12, 2017

In this book of wonderful essays, Mary Oliver alternates between her explorations of the natural world and essays that offer glimpses into her creative side. She has an essay about finding friends in books beginning when she was very young and living in a small Ohio town. And, in another, she writes about the creative life and how, for her, it is very closely aligned with the spiritual life. And how she took some turtle eggs from the nest and scrambled them! I enjoyed getting to know her better through these essays.

Mar 23, 2017

This is a small book of essays by Mary Oliver that convey her thoughts and experiences about the natural world. It is a relaxed and gentle read that would be good for those who appreciate nature writing.

Mar 21, 2017

I prefer her poetry to essays but this is a nice book and some tender thoughts are conveyed here. I share her tenderness for animals and the natural world and appreciate her perspective on both.

Feb 05, 2017

Oliver refers to our environment in a borrowed quote, "Inherited Responsibility... great ones have taught me to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly. '
We read the authors primer on Whitman, Emerson, Wordsworth, and Poe - their relationship to the nature of the soul with ties to the nature of our environment. In between references to poets and idealists Oliver describes her intimate observations of spiders, owls, fish, and more.
I hope to remember her call to action, "Not to talk about...___, but on their behalf." I would sum her views that there are links between all. "We are each others destiny."

Jan 17, 2017

Mary Oliver's writing sees the best in us as human beings. It inspires me to look with more care than before, to savor just a moment longer. Her innate patience is admirable, and reading her poetry and her essays convinces me that she is a lovely person to know. These essays were perfect as a more hearty entree to her poetry. Her view of the world is rare and her writing succinct and approachable. I am forever converted as a fan!


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