A Sense of Awe
The poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver contemplates humility and an extraordinary sense of awe. It is about seeing the miraculous in ordinary things, that upon closer look, are not so ordinary, such as the tiny movements of the grasshopper’s jaw. Oliver’s awestruck communion with nature prompts her to ask important spiritual questions: Who created this extraordinary world and its inhabitants? How am I going to make the most of this precious life that I’ve been given? The questions being asked in this poem describe a profound spiritual awakening, but what is also important is what you can experience if you give yourself the time and space to be fully present in the moment, and pay attention to details in your surroundings. What revelations might come to you if you gave yourself moments to be “idle and blessed”?
In Mary Oliver’s poem, the speaker, who I will identify as Oliver herself, spends the day strolling through the fields. Imagine her walking through pockets of wildflowers with briars clinging to her shoelaces. Can you imagine her stopping for a moment to observe an area of swampy grass where sparrows are plunging their pointed beaks into the soft bodies of worms? Oliver has her own form of prayer, her own way of reaching out to the divine, by kneeling down into the natural world and allowing herself to be touched by the beauty around her. The walk itself is a healing prayer.
Does Oliver answer her own question of who made the world, the bear, the swan, and the grasshopper? Not directly. But she does imply that there is a divine and intelligent creator whose handiwork has left her humbled, grateful, and impassioned with a sense of wonder. By observing the grasshopper eating the sugar and washing her face, Oliver was able to, on some level, identify with the grasshopper and become aware of her own “wild” nature. On a deeper level, the fragile beauty of the moment sharpened the realization for the poet that we only have these brief, precious moments, that her life too is going to pass by quickly, and that her time must be spent in a space of beauty and gratitude.
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