I have sharpened my knives, I have
Put on the heavy apron.
Maybe you think life is chicken soup, served
In blue willow-pattern bowls.
I have put on my boots and opened
The kitchen door and stepped out
Into the sunshine. I have crossed the lawn.
I have entered
The hen house.
Mary Oliver is a plain speaking poet, as exemplified by this early poem. She is a perfect example of a poet who continually is writing the same poem over and over again, perhaps to a fault, but you're more likely to hear that from her than me. Often her poems describe direct encounters with nature, in which the narrator has a revelation or a transcendent moment or plainly, simply, is.
"Farm Country" is nature from a different approach. More to the point, it comes round to the lesson all her finest poems teach, if by an even plainer, less circuitous route than usual. Is it that the route hasn't been traveled before that gives her work its power and resonance? Hardly. She reminds us, she insists on reminding us, of what is all around us that we have simply stopped paying attention at the possible cost, without putting too fine a point on it, of our souls.
These words are ones which, in translation, Issa and Bashō most assuredly would concur.
killing a chicken--
the willow at the gate
David Giannini has just dropped me a note to let me know that today, by the old Japanese calender, is Issa's death day. So here is one of his finest pieces, his death poem:
A bath when you're born,
a bath when you die,
translated by Robert Hass
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