“Morning Poem” by Mary Oliver is a remarkable example of the intermingling of human beings and the natural world. It was first published in her collection of poems, Dream Work in 1986. Oliver’s poetry is surreal and reminds us of the beauty of nature and how every life on earth is dependent on it. The poem focuses on the new beginnings, and the doors life opens to us.
Her poems are often viewed in a positive light. They have all the sanguine elements about life and how nature can be a savior to the lost and depressed souls. Oliver is an American poet and is best known for her collection of cheerful, hopeful, highly-praised nature poetry.
- Read the full text of “Morning Poem” below:
Morning Poem by Mary Oliver Every morning the world is created. Under the orange sticks of the sun the heaped ashes of the night turn into leaves again and fasten themselves to the high branches– and the ponds appear like black cloth on which are painted islands of summer lilies. If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere. And if your spirit carries within it the thorn that is heavier than lead– if it’s all you can do to keep on trudging– there is still somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted– each pond with its blazing lilies is a prayer heard and answered lavishly, every morning, whether or not you have ever dared to be happy, whether or not you have ever dared to pray. - from Dream Work (1986)
“Morning Poem” is about the fresh start and the new beginnings one should make after a night full of gloom and sadness. Oliver evokes the senses of all human beings to be joyful and embrace the beautiful and lively nature around them. It is about how nature can become a teacher and a guide for humans and inspire them to live a life free from darkness, full of spirit and enthusiasm, and to express their gratitude for the creator.
Structure & Form
“Morning Poem” has its setting in nature, and various agents of nature help humankind to find happiness and forget about the sufferings and pain. The overall tone of the poem is optimistic with a roller coaster of emotions from happiness to sadness, returning to happiness and gratitude. It’s a remarkable example of organic nature poetry. This poem is composed of nine quatrains with no specific rhyme and rhythm. It runs into several lines with dashes and end-stopped lines. An omniscient narrator with a highly optimistic approach describes the blissful morning.
Oliver’s “Morning Poem” has the following poetic devices:
- Imagery: It is used to evoke the five senses of readers. Oliver uses this device in the following lines: “Under the orange/ sticks of the sun,” “the heaped/ ashes of the night,” “the thorn/ that is heavier than lead,” “blazing lilies,” etc.
- Simile: It is a comparison of two unlike things with as or like. For example, it occurs in “the ponds appear/ like black cloth.”
- Enjambment: Almost every line is seen as the lines are terminated before their natural stopping point.
- Repetition: It occurs when a word or phrase frequently occurs throughout the text. For instance, the initial phrase “Every morning” is repeated in the eighth stanza.
- Personification: It means denoting human qualities to animals, objects, or abstract ideas. For example, “each pond with its blazing lilies/ is a prayer heard and answered/ lavishly.”
- Metaphor: It is a comparison of two unlike things without the use of as or like. For example, it occurs in “orange/ sticks of the sun,” “the thorn/ that is heavier than lead,” somewhere deep within you/ a beast shouting,” etc.
Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis & Explanation
Under the orange
In “Morning Poem,” the first three lines converge our attention to the overall theme of the poem, i.e., the morning. These lines are rather of the statement nature. Oliver uses enjambment here. Her approach to using enjambment clearly shows her motive to establish a connection between the approaching lines with the lines that went before.
The “morning” symbolizes a fresh start, and we should embrace the morning as the beginning of a new chapter in our life. The main target is to keep an optimistic approach while going on with the poem.
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
The phrase “sticks of the sun” contains an interesting metaphor. In order to comprehend its background and derivation, one should connect it with the last line of the previous stanza, i.e., “under the orange.” The “sticks of the sun” here represent the image of mesmerizing sun rays that fall on the earth and give hope of a fresh start. With this sunlight coming, the “ashes of the night/ turn into leaves again.” It highlights the concept of rebirth.
There can also be a reference to the mythical bird of regeneration, the phoenix. This special bird arises from its ashes and is reborn. Oliver suggests that the night is burned down into ashes, suggesting the rebirth and hence, the opening of new doors.
and fasten themselves to the high branches–
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
This stanza carries more lively and vivid imagery. Oliver picturizes the stanza with leaves on the high branches, lit with the sparkling rays of the sun, which seemed to shine so brightly that it produces an overall glittering effect. Moving on with the stanza, the speaker presents the image of ponds as “black cloth.” Readers are also encouraged to explore the details of these islands in the following stanzas. There is more of a description of a sunny morning with all the intricate details from nature.
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
In this stanza of “Morning Poem,” Oliver shows us what is there on the islands. The summer lilies bloom on the “painted islands.” The overall scenery that the speaker successfully paints is mesmerizing. It also suggests the cycles of nature and how the concept of the new beginnings and rebirth is implied in each stanza.
Moreover, this stanza highlights the importance of a healthy and happy conscience. The speaker suggests that a happy mind is a garden of joyful thoughts, small saplings of happiness, and bushes of new avenues. It is also capable of recreation and reaching the places that seemed impossible.
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
The fifth stanza opens up with the thread from the last stanza. There is also a shift in the speaker’s mood due to the introduction of contrasts. The contrast put forward in this stanza is day and night, light and dark. She suggests that to celebrate happiness, the address to sadness and gloom is necessary. One cannot cherish happiness if one has not tasted gloominess.
that is heavier than lead–
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging–
The overall tone of this stanza is low and dejected. The use of the word “thorn” suggests that sadness weighs one down and blurs one’s vision to look around for the good things that nature has to offer. When a person’s soul is wounded with the “thorn,” it cannot float “along the soft trails.” It will always be in pain. They will fail to see happy and beautiful nature because they are more concentrated on their pains rather than the world around them.
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted–
This section of “Morning Poem” springs up in hope. The beasty hope seems to be peeping through the window to diminish the darkness, spreading its energy to see a happy world again. Just as the sunlight makes the darkness disappear, brightens up the leaves from the remains of the night, hope and happiness can make their way.
The speaker also suggests that nothing lasts forever, and hence, sadness cannot fix its feet and trouble one for long. It will soon vanish, and the dawn of a new beginning will provide utmost peace and serenity after all.
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
All the following stanzas exhibit a positive approach towards life. There is a direct comparison between the “blazing lilies” blooming from the ponds to a “prayer” that is heard and answered. A new day opens up new alleys. A new world waits for us each day, with its arms wide open to embrace us.
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
In the last stanza, Oliver wants readers to be highly optimistic. She encourages them to lift their bowed heads and have a glance at the beautiful, optimistic nature out there. Even though we are not willing to see the good part of life, it is still out there waiting for us to unravel. The bliss in nature remains constant, even we dare to pray for it or not.
Mary Oliver’s poems are influenced by her memories of Ohio and her new home in New England. She sets most of her poems in or around Provincetown, Massachusetts after her stay there. To Oliver, nature is the supreme power and ultimate source of joy and beauty. Highly derived from the ideologies of Whitman and Thoreau, her poems are deeply rooted around birds, mountains, trees, the moon, and the other parts of nature, which more or less teach lessons to mankind. Oliver’s “Morning Poem” was first published in the collection of poetry, Dream Work, in 1986.
Questions & Answers
This poem is about being cheerful and optimistic in all phases of life, embracing the beauty of nature, and finding happiness in small things.
The title of the poem suggests a fresh start one should make, like the fresh mornings. The “morning” symbolizes new beginnings, and hence, the poem is about making a new start and admiring the beauty of nature.
This poem is full of positivity and optimism. Oliver convinces readers to keep aside all the misery and cherish the serene beauty of nature. They must dare to derive happiness and peace from it.
Mary Oliver believes nature to be the greatest healer and the best teacher. Hence most of her poems are centered around nature and its intricate details.
Mary Oliver is an American poet, born and brought up in Maples Hills Heights, Cleveland, Ohio.
Oliver uses various poetic devices like personification, metaphor, simile, enjambment, and imagery to add charm to this poem.
Similar Poems about Nature
- “The Nightingale” by Philip Sydney — This poem highlights a lover’s pain who has been heartbroken and the song of the nightingale just adds to his pain.
- “Deep in the Quiet Wood” by James Weldon Johnson — This piece explores the escape and solace one can find from the tribulations of daily life in the woods.
- “The Wind” by Amy Lowell — This poem is about the wind that spreads positivity and cheerfulness to all the places it went.
- “The Bird Sanctuary” by Sarojini Naidu — This piece highlights the serene, melodious, and captivating songs of the winged fairies of nature, “birds.”
- Check out A Thousand Mornings: Poems — This Mary Oliver collection won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Poetry in 2012.
- About Mary — Explore the poet’s biography on her official website.
- A Beautiful Reading of “Morning Poem” — Watch how the words of Oliver ripples through a dancer’s gracious moves.
- Mary Oliver and Nature — Read how Oliver’s poetry evokes and appreciates nature.
- Poet Profile of Mary Oliver — Learn about the poet’s life and works.