Book Review: ‘Felicity’ both enchants and delights
by Mary Oliver
So often, we feel hesitant to approach a new work by a well-loved writer. We wonder if it live up to our expectations, and we wonder if it will it hold true, but show progress.
I marvel at “Felicity,” Mary Oliver’s newest collection of poems, and wonder how the poet manages, over and over, to enchant and delight. Once I open it, I can’t stop reading; I eat the poems up like candy.
Sparked by love, “Felicity,” as the title suggests, invokes a feeling of pure and intense happiness.
But the word also carries a sense of serendipity, another feeling you’ll experience as you enter its pages. Happening upon the first poem, Oliver speaks to the reader directly, calling him or her into this precise moment.
The title of the poem is an imperative: “Don’t Worry.” You have found — or it has found you — just what you needed.
Maybe you wouldn’t think of reading a book of poems, but this slim volume requires far less commitment than a novel. It can be read over breakfast, one small optimistic insight at a time.
You might also find that it’s the perfect gift for a loved one who appreciates poetry — or for someone who doesn’t yet appreciate it — because anyone can find hope among these pages. These poems are accessible and intelligent, thoughtful and cheerful, good and right.
The word “felicity” also holds a secondary meaning: eloquence and appropriateness of expression. Through the poems, you’ll find yourself in conversation with a poet who feels like an old friend, who speaks your heart but with better words. She understands your trials, but she somehow finds a way to take that precise moment when ideas might become dark or hopeless and turn them into sunshine.
Oliver’s is the poetry of sunrises, of forgotten or mundane moments of life elevated to beauty and art. Such has always been her specialty, and she carries it flawlessly into “Felicity,” taking an ordinary image and making it a poem. The slant of light through your window, the laughing heads of roses, the “harsh and exciting” call of wild geese in a cold, blue sky.
Here in Colorado, we know these images well. You won’t find the Rocky Mountains in Oliver’s poems, but you’ll find all the details you, too, have noticed when you took a walk along the Yampa on an early spring day — when the season hadn’t yet turned but you could sense it right around the corner.
“I’m ready for spring, but it hasn’t arrived. / Not yet,” Oliver tells us in the opening line of her second poem. I agree, though I realize upon admitting it that I should brace myself against the onslaught of protests.
“Don’t / worry,” as Oliver says: spring is far enough away, and you’ll still get plenty of snow. For me, I am here with my cup of tea and “Felicity,” my little bit of warmth in winter.
Jamie Burgess is, among other things, a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.
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