Many poems are written to convey certain ideologies to readers. They do this by featuring aesthetic qualities in their text. In this instance, aesthetic qualities are certain attributes of a poem which draw the readers attention, and keeps them captivated throughout the passage. Mary Oliver is quite successful when it comes to this. Growing up in Ohio with a dysfunctional family, Oliver went through many ordeals which gave her inspiration to write with depth and understanding on a range of topics. Many of her works reflect the romanticism and transcendentalism movements from the 1840s to the 1860s in America. Although she was born after these movements (1935), she is still seen to be a part of these literary periods. Mary Oliver greatly refers to nature in her poems, and she talks about how humans have corrupted it. She delves into ideologies such as environmentalism and ecofeminism. Much of the poetry produced during the romanticism movement focused on nature too. Mary Oliver also directed a few of her poems towards the ideology of colonialism, which was also one focus of transcendentalism. In her poems Aunt Leaf, Sleeping in the Forest, Learning About the Indians, and Tecumseh, Mary Oliver explores the ideologies of ecofeminism and colonialism, whilst attracting the attention from the readers with certain aesthetic qualities, such as imagery, language, prosody, and rhythm.
Mary Olivers 1979 poem Aunt Leaf has been written to convey the ideology of ecofeminism. The text supports this ideology in many ways, using aesthetic qualities. The first quality which attracts readers is the rhythm and structure of the poem. There is no specific structure to the passage; it seems to be written in free verse. Oliver uses free verse to reflect how the persona feels in the poem: free. When shes out with only nature, shes able to do whatever she would like. Theres no set rhythm for her to follow; she doesnt have to confine to anyone elses expectations. This is exactly what ecofeminism is about. Its about how women and the environment are both seen as less worthy to men. However, when theyre left alone by men, they flourish. And whisper in a language only the two of us knew/ the word that meant follow,/ …this friend I had to have,/ this old woman made out of leaves. This quote talks about how the speaker and Aunt Leaf had a secret language, which they used to hide their words and feelings, since they couldnt let anything out to men. Mary Oliver had a troubled past, involving her sexually-abusive father. She wrote about him in her poem Rage: You are the dark song/
of the morning;/ serious and slow,/ you shave, you dress,/ …But you were also the red song/
in the night,/stumbling through the house/ to the childs bed,/ to the damp rose of her body,/ leaving your bitter taste. Her history in relation to this topic is most likely what opened her eyes to feminism, and then ecofeminism. Oliver indicates more than a hint of romanticism in Rage, which relates to a large number of her poems. The fact that no men are mentioned in Aunt Leaf also supports ecofeminism as an ideology. It represents that men are the reason behind the degradation of women and the environment. Although there is no specific structure to the text, it is still very easy to read, and it flows nicely. This adds to the aesthetic of the poem, because it allows audiences to follow the phrases and put them together flawlessly. Another quality which draws attention from the audience is the imagery used in Aunt Leaf. References to nature are very common for Mary Oliver poetry, but the nature in Aunt Leaf is much more picturesque. This resembles the beauty of the environments, which again supports ecofeminism. Phrases such as …Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud/ or The-Beauty-Of-The-Night, and wed travel/ cheerful as birds/ out of the dusty town and into the trees,and old twist of feathers and birch bark/ scattering the rags of twilights/ on fluttering moth wings all express beauty in the nature around the persona. Theres even alliteration in the imagery: or shed hang in the milky moonlight/ burning like a medallion. The alliteration adds to the appeal of the poem, as it sounds more pleasant when reading the text. Therefore, the poem Aunt Leaf has used the aesthetic qualities of rhythm and imagery to successfully support the ideology of ecofeminism.
Another poem which also supports ecofeminism is Sleeping in the Forest. Mary Oliver also wrote this poem in 1979, and it greatly resembles Aunt Leaf. Again, one of the most aesthetically pleasing features of the poem is the enchanting imagery. Readers can almost visualise the forest as they read about it. … a stone/ on the riverbed, nothing/ between me and the white fire of the stars/ …and they floated/ light as moths among the branches/ of the perfect trees. All night/ I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling/ with a luminous doom. The imagery of the forest is so appealing. Not only does it keep readers captivated, it also represents the peacefulness the persona is experiencing while shes alone with nature. No men present, just herself and the forest. This develops the ideology of ecofeminism, due to the soothing tone of the poem without any male presence. Another quality which promotes ecofeminism is personification. I thought the earth/ remembered me, she/ too me back so tenderly, arranging/ her dark skirts, her pockets full of lichens and seeds. In this poem, the earth, or nature as a whole, is referred to as she. This is a major hint that the poem is referring to ecofeminism. Id nature had been personified as a male, the entire interpretation of the text would be completely different. This was also true to Aunt Leaf; had the title been Uncle Leaf or another male figure, readers would have completely different ideas about the poem. Sleeping in the Forest also does not have a specific structure. Its written in free verse. However, this also adds to the aesthetic of the poem by allowing readers to experience no set rules when reading the text. Every line flows into the next, which allows for multiple cases of caesura and enjambment in the poem. This may be slightly unusual to readers, as there are no end stops or pauses at the ends of the lines. This keeps their attention drawn, while replicating the liberty of ecofeminism: women and nature not being degraded by men. In this way, Mary Oliver has supported the ideology of ecofeminism through the use of imagery, personification, and prosody.
Not all of Mary Olivers poems were focused solely on nature. Since she had a background from Ohio, its not surprising that she also liked to focus on colonialism, specifically on Tecumseh. Tecumseh was a Shawnee Indian political leader, who was born in Ohio in 1768. Tecumseh fought for his fellow Native Americans in many battles, finally being killed by American forces in the the Battle of the Thames, in 1813. Mary Oliver dedicated an entire poem to this American folk hero in 1983, calling it Tecumseh. The poem challenges the ideology of colonialism