Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Summer Day

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver is an American poet who has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She is a nature poet and a mystic poet rolled into one.  Her perceptive and brilliantly crafted poems about the natural landscape and the fundamental questions of life and death have won high praise from critics and readers . 

Summer Day is a lovely poem that starts with philosophical enquiries, “Who made the world?/Who made the swan, and the black bear?”. If we approach the poem literally, perhaps the poet started a summer day strolling through grass fields . She is startled by a grasshopper that leaps from the ground into her hands. That becomes a moment of supreme attentiveness that leads to a new awareness of the miracle of existence of flora and fauna around her. Like the God who is said to count every strand of our hair, Oliver turns her eyes on one specific creature and its singularity and asks, “Who made grasshopper?”. It is interesting that Oliver never answers her questions. Instead, she continues to observe the tiny visitor even more closely. It is when she stops, stoops, and examines the grasshopper that she notices its “enormous and complicated eyes”; the jaws that move “back and forth instead of up and down” in contrast to human mandibles; the rubbing of its pale forearms and that unforgettable sight: a grasshopper washing its face.

From here, the poem takes an effortless turn. The act of intensely watching this seemingly insignificant creature become allied in the poet’s mind with an attitude of prayer. She  says, “ I don’t know exactly what a prayer is”. Here she is not talking about prayer encrusted in rote words, or prayer as a communal outpouring of spirit. In Oliver’s world, the worship space is an open field. One kneels to “pay attention”. To be attentive and idle is to pray and be blessed.

The poem offers a new way of being in the world. “Tell me, what else should I have done?/Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?”/Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?." These lines hit us hard. It demonstrates our defenselessness against the flow of time. The poet feels that a way to exalt our ephemerality is to impart an exhilarating and electrifying glaze to our life.


  1. Beautiful poem and description. IMO, the line "Tell me, what else should I have done?/Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?" meant that we should pay attention to the little details and things that are part of our life on Earth, else the life feels not fully lived.

    1. Sorry Lata for late acknowledgement. Was going through comments waiting moderation and saw this only now. Thanks a ton ...PGR

  2. The poem reminds me of the very short periods of lives that insects,birds, wild animals living in forests and fish in the water bodies have, as they are soon killed or eaten by other animals.