Mary Oliver's Seven White Butterflies And West Wind
This is a poetry analysis of Mary Oliver's Seven White Butterflies and West Wind 2. It uses the poems as the main source.
Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize winner poet of modern literature is not only keen on nature but she uses it to inspire readers as well. She neither admonishes nor does she discriminate against those who do not share her view. Like most romantic poets she creates a boundary between nature and man, and attempts to explain through examples by which one can live by. In her poems Seven White Butterflies and West Wind 2 the poet demonstrates that man needs to learn from nature a life free from struggle for materialism or dejection. She further suggests that man is part of nature and struggling against the stream of life would not resolve the dilemmas that he's in. These ideas have very eloquently been analogized and presented in her two poems which are discussed below.
Analysis of the Poems
The poem Seven Butterflies is a reflection of the subject "butterflies." Oliver takes a simplistic approach to her subject, starting out with these lines:
Seven white butterflies...delicate in a hurry look...how they bang the pages...of their wings as they fly"
In these first few lines, Oliver uses simple language to present and establish the nature of butterflies, their antics and the sum of their life, that is - they flutter in a hurry, they struggle endlessly for freedom and "they bang the pages" in the process. By nature they have the "wisdom" to seek and find where their means are in the "fields of mustard yellow" and it is this same wisdom that leads them to the "brassy stem" with a "yellow thumb" (their food). Thus, in a way butterflies are lucky, identified by the metaphor seven, to live a carefree life even though from time to time have they struggle from captivity and survive with human beings
The reader cannot help but absorb Oliver's musings on butterflies and compare it with nature's way of preserving that which is good nature in an environment that is filled with threats to their survival.
Oliver's other poem the West Wind 2 also talks of struggle. The poet sets out with an advisory tone to caution someone young, perhaps in their late teens or early twenties, about the struggles that one has to do in life. This is evident in these two lines:
You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But, listen to me."
Again Oliver uses nature to compare the journey of life with a journey on a river stream. Life according to Oliver is a series of struggles whether it is for a loved one; something inanimate like a "scuffed shoe" or for one's pet dog. All these struggles, according to her would prove meaningless in the end "When you hear, a mile / away and still out of sight, the churn of the water" and realizes that throughout out one's life everyone needs to understand struggles must be directed towards something concrete such as death and the life after; not for the material things of this world.
Hence an overview of West Wind 2 indicates that Oliver tend to use nature to compare with human life. This characteristic of separating the humans from nature is inherent among the romantic poets. What differentiates Oliver from the rest is her attitude and approach to her subject. She neither reprimands man for his ill effects on nature but rather advises; nor does she segregates nature from man but in fact uses it to analogize life with nature's processes. These factors are evident in both of her poems.
In West Wind 2 for example she cautions her subject by writing:
when you hear that unmistakable pounding -- when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming -- then row, row for your life toward it."
In the above lines it is clear that the poet first creates a suspenseful crescendo and then climax with her ultimate goal for cautioning the subject youth "then row, row for your life toward it." She uses the terms "long falls" to analogize the end of human life and symbolically depict human life as short as a journey on a river stream that ends up in a waterfall. A boat rower does not really have much choice but to row towards it.
In Seven White Butterflies too Oliver is seen to have adopted the same principle of comparing how butterflies are luckier than the humans who always strive to contain nature. Butterflies symbolically a representation of nature is always free from these threats because nature enables them with the wisdom to extricate them from captivity or death. Oliver uses an idolatry and reflective tone through the allusion of "Blake and Whitman" to establish authority in this conviction and affirmation of her rationale.
Similarly, in the title of Seven White Butterflies one understands how these butterflies have been metaphorically used to depict the purity of nature. While the number seven as mentioned earlier represent luck. These initial terms as well as within the poem too, one also come across terms like "gold all eternity," "dancers floating," "banter" and "golden towers" which clearly establishes the fact that Oliver's main aim has been to set the reader feel how nature is free of worries that man tend to load himself with in this materialistic world. They are not worried about the "scuffed shoe," a pet dog or even a "bent penny" as presented in West Wind 2. In Seven White Butterflies, the reader gets to feel nature as it is - filled with golden opportunities to live and do what one want without disturbing the balance of life.
However, unlike the West Wind 2, Oliver in this poem has chosen to follow a semi-formal structure to establish a rhythm. The use of stanzas is proof to this fact. Yet, one cannot help but note that this is as far as Oliver can formalize her poetry; she does not care for formal rhyme neither does she stick to syntax. She does on the other hand follow a concrete poetic style to create imagery. The butterflies, the fields and the golden span of the horizon all are imaging terms that create concreteness in her work.
As far as rhythm in West Wind 2 is concerned Oliver seems to adopt a style that is free from any formal rhythm. This is what makes West Wind 2 even more interesting because in four stanzas she manages to first establish trust as evidence in these words "Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without/any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me" and then delve straight to the issue of cautioning the youth. There is no formal rhyme or rhythm to the terms used yet one get the distinct image of a boat rower's dilemma rowing downstream. And the last line, in one smooth stanza she present and at the same time advise the youth what to do. This gives the finality of the obvious and the reason why she wants to caution one in the first place. Unlike in the poem Seven White Butterflies, she does stick to syntax but no rhythm is established.
It would be prudent to conclude that Oliver with her simple language and projection of nature as examples of carefree life establishes the fact that life is a struggle but it need not be for a failed cause like materialistic gains. In fact man need to realize that life is a series of struggle but it ultimately should be in harmony with nature not against it for man is part of nature. Only after one…