Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what the soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape—
New and Selected Poems, Volume Two, an anthology of forty-two new poems—an entire volume in itself—and sixty-nine poems hand-picked by Mary Oliver from six of her last eight books, is a major addition to a career in poetry that has spanned nearly five decades. Now recognized as an unparalleled poet of the natural world, Mary Oliver writes with unmatched dexterity and a profound appreciation for the divergence and convergence of all living things.
Mary Oliver is always searching for the soul of things. In poem after poem, her investigations go from the humble green bean that nourishes her and makes her wonder if “something / —I can’t name it—watches as I walk the / rows, accepting the gift of their lives / to assist mine” to the vast, untouchable bliss of “things you can’t reach. / But you can reach out to them, and all day long. / The wind, the bird flying away. / The idea of God.” Oliver’s search grows and is informed by experience, meditation, perception, and discernment. And all the while, during her quest, she is constantly surprised and fortified by joy.
“One of the astonishing aspects of Oliver’s work is the consistency of tone over this long period [of her career]. What changes is an increased focus on nature and an increased precision with language that has made her one of our very best poets . . . There is no complaint in Ms. Oliver’s poetry, no whining, but neither is there the sense that life is in any way easy . . . These poems sustain us rather than divert us. Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward.”
—Stephen Dobyns, New York Times Book Review