House of Light (Mary Oliver) pdf, epub, doc

House of Light ePub and PDF Available
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Despite owning Oliver’s two volume New and Selected Poems, I couldn’t resist snatching up this tiny collection when I stumbled upon it at a library book sale in the fifty cents bin. Although it was her American Primitive that achieved her Pulitzer recognition, House of Light remains my favorite collection of Oliver’s picturesque poetry. After spending a few days in poetic rapture through each word and staggered stanzas, I realized the former owner had discretely placed a small dot next to three different poems in the table of contents. To my joy, these three poems—assumingly singled out for being the ones closest to the former owner’s heart—coincided with my personal favorites as well. In a collection about the unity of all life as it breaches the limits of life and into death, it seemed all the more poignant to find two people across space and time sharing Oliver’s words and, as if in subtle conversation, agreeding upon the words that moved us the most.House of Light, Oliver’s metaphor of the afterlife, glides like a swan into the pond of your heart, sending out little ripples of joy and comfort as she looks towards death without fear but with acceptance and wonderment.
Some Questions You Might Ask
Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?
The soul is a theme that floats through this collection as Oliver grapples with the possibility of its existence and the question of what becomes of us when we die. Oliver asks ‘why should I hate it, and not the anteater who loves her children’, and rejects the notion that humans are above any other living thing on earth. She envies the quiet life of flowers in the breeze in Lilies, she spends a day contemplating a mother bear moving down a mountain with ‘her wordlessness, her perfect lovein Spring, and seems to find her inner peace when deep in the wilderness. Out doors, in the company of nature and not people, is when the quiet answers to the universe seem to whisper themselves in her heart. Oliver seems herself a Buddhist as she declares a soul, a light inside all living things, none less beautiful than the rest.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
Taken from the conclusion to The Ponds, this reflects Oliver’s belief in the perfect universal soul, that the light of existence burns away the impurities. Her words are immensely uplifting and empowering as she urges us to maintain a quiet serenity in our hearts. Her words are always so clear, simple and still, like a cool body of water on a sunny day where the rocks on the bottom many feet down can be seen from the surface. Reading her words are like a walk in the forest, refreshing and humbling as they remind you of the things that really matter in life.
The Buddha’s Last Instruction
“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal – a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire –
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.
This light, this purity, speaks to us in every poem. Oliver reminds us to be good to one another, to respect the world around us, and to humble oneself in its immense beauty and mysteries. We are each insignificant, just a speck in all this vastness, yet we are also ‘of inexplicable value’ at the same time. We must accept love and give love, we must try to be a light, because a light can spread and cover the world, comforting and improving the lives of all those it touches.
In Singapore, in the airport,
A darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something
in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain
rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and
neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as
hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want to rise up from the crust and the slop
and fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn’t.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life.I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
The way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.
This is such a moving poem (one of the three singled out with a dot in the Table of Contents) and is unique in this collection, being an incredible humanizing poem as it turns a eye of pity on our species instead of an eye of wonder towards nature. It is a perfect example of Oliver remembering the Buddha’s words, to not look down on others with disgust and remember that a ‘light can shine out of a life’ and that we all value our own existence, regardless of where in the social standings it falls. We watch Oliver chastise herself for her initial disgust, her initial pretentions against the lower classes of society, and learn to love the smiling face.

Death is a constant companion lurking behind each rock and tree in Oliver’s poems. Yet she never applies a foreboding tone, but instead looks at it as the natural course. A flower never fears its demise, so why should we. Her impressions of death reshape as the collection progresses, often asking if there is a life on the other side, often viewing it as a void or then a darkness, yet finally, in White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field, Oliver reveals to be pure brilliant beauty. To merely give the final few lines that I wish to highlight, instead of the entire poem, would be an insult.
Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn't darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

What a phenomenal depiction of death, as a white owl that silently snatches us from life. Death is not to be feared, it is a comforting light, warm like a heavy blanket, in which we are ‘washed out of our bones.’ How can one fear the end when viewing it like this?

This collection is breathtakingly beautiful, and probably my favorite of all Oliver’s works (although Dream Work has a few favorite poems). Death and the soul are discussed with such delicate, simple phrases of supreme potency that will wash the readers heart and soul in order to make it glow with the light of the Buddha. Mary Oliver is a national treasure.
Five A.M. in the Pinewoods
I'd seen
their hoofprints in the deep
needles and knew
they ended the long night

under the pines, walking
like two mute
and beautiful women toward
the deeper woods, so I

got up in the dark and
went there. They came
slowly down the hill
and looked at me sitting under

the blue trees, shyly
they stepped
closer and stared
from under their thick lashes and even

nibbled some damp
tassels of weeds. This
is not a poem about a dream,
though it could be.

This is a poem about the world
that is ours, or could be.
one of them — I swear it! —

would have come to my arms.
But the other
stamped sharp hoof in the
pine needles like

the tap of sanity,
and they went off together through
the trees. When I woke
I was alone,

I was thinking:
so this is how you swim inward,
so this is how you flow outward,
so this is how you pray.

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Book info

  • Author:
  • Publisher:Beacon Press
  • File: 5.7 Mb
  • Ganre: Poetry
  • Release: 08.04.1992
  • ISBN: 9780807068113
  • Pages 80
  • Rating: 4.39 (916 votes)


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