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Mary Oliver

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Possible source
Added by: Nicholas Kruse
Some of the imagery and inspiration for this poem may have come from the Bible, specifically Matthew 6.25-34 (included at the end of this post).

The poem has a sense of wistfulness, longing for a simpler life, an existence without closets (clothing), cupboards (food). Compare to Matthew 6.25: "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on."

The poem is not just an affirmation of the Bible verses, though; the speaker "would wait all day / for the green face / of the hummingbird / to touch me. / What I mean is, / could I forget myself / even in those feathery fields?" The speaker does not know if she would be able to live like a lily, as Jesus instructs his followers, since, even as a lily, she would still want something (the hummingbird). There is also a sense of fear at the vulnerability of that existence -- "the vanishing lilies / melt, without protest, on their tongues--". Looking back to the Bible passage, Christians are instructed to place their faith in God, to trust him to protect and provide for them (see Matthew 6.30 below). In the end, the speaker cannot do this, and thus "will always be lonely". This could be a failure to trust in God, to become one, and hence end the loneliness. In a broader sense it could be her inability to accept life for the fragile but beautiful thing it is and accept her place among all the other elements of existence (the cattle, the hummingbirds, even Van Gogh).

Disclaimer: I'm not actually Christian and not well-read in the Bible, so forgive me if my interpretations of the Bible are off the mark.

From the Gideons New Testament version:
"25 Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;
29 And yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, oh you of little faith?
31 Therefore do not worry, saying 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'
32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly father knows that you need all these things.
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."
Added by: Hessie
Many of the images in this poem remind me of Monet's 'Water Lilys' painting.
Added by: Puzzled
Why would they? Cows don't eat water lilies.
Added by: Gordon Bowering
I think that the author has the idea,
but you could not get this long a poem
onto a single greeting card.
Added by: Brandon
Seems like in the end, she envies the hummingbird more than the lilies. Alone does it visit the flowers, but it still has all it needs (like the birds of the field, eh?). And it can float away whenever there's trouble, but the lilies just get eaten. She doesn't want the naked raw existance, but the carefree life of the hummingbird.

Another way to look at it is to note the symbolism. She, talking about being a flower (female), is forever waiting for the hummingbird (male), but forever lonely. I don't know anything about Mary Oliver's life but perhaps she had trouble finding the right man? That's just a shot in the dark..

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