‘Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York,1957’ by Mary Oliver

Once, in summer
in the blueberries,
I fell asleep, and woke
when a deer stumbled against me.

I guess
she was so busy with her own happiness
she had grown careless
and was just wandering along

to the wind as she leaned down
to lip up the sweetness.
So, there we were

with nothing between us
but a few leaves, and wind’s
glossy voice
shouting instructions.

The deer
backed away finally
and flung up her white tail
and went floating off toward the trees –

but the moment she did that
was so wide and so deep
it has lasted to this day;
I have only to think of her –

the flower of her amazement
and the stalled breath of her curiosity,
and even the damp touch of her solicitude
before she took flight –

to be absent again from this world
and alive, again, in another
for thirty years
sleepy and amazed,

rising out of the rough weeds
listening and looking.
Beautiful girl,
where are you?

In this enticingly titled poem Mary Oliver takes us, as she loves to do, deep into a world of natural beauty and child-like wonder. I don’t know if anyone will understand what I mean when I say that I always find something very clean and sharp about Oliver’s work… perhaps it is the simple, unassuming manner of her expression, and the powerful effect it never fails to deliver. Whatever it is, this piece is a very charming treasure.

This wonderful poet seems to me to be always very much in admiration of the oblivious wisdom of wild creatures. As she writes in her fragmented prose-poem Staying Alive, “I believe everything has a soul”. The deer in this poem certainly seems to have one; I love the way she describes her (the deer) as being “so busy with her own happiness” that she has “grown careless” and just stumbles across the speaker in the blueberries as she leans down to “lip up the sweetness”. Mary Oliver always finds truth for us in the natural world. In the above-mentioned prose-poem she writes of her instruction as a poet while growing up, “I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything – other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion – that standing within this otherness – the beauty and the mystery of the world… can re-dignify the worst-stung heart”.

There is a precious moment in this poem where the deer and the speaker connect – a moment “so wide and so deep” that “it has lasted to this day”. It is as though the deer has forgotten that it ought to be afraid of a human being, and then the wind shouts its “instructions”, and it floats off toward the trees.

But I think the most charming thing about this poem is its end lines: “Beautiful girl,/ where are you?” I love the description of the slender, delicate but wild deer as a beautiful girl; it is absolutely appropriate, and really captures that instinctive, immediate rush of love one can feel when encountering an animal in this way – especially in its own environment. I also think that the deer in this poem could represent the speaker’s younger self – perhaps a memory of a carefree, easily startled (human) girl who was also “so busy with her own happiness”. I think the deer has something to teach the speaker (and the reader) about ageing and being present; to quote Staying Alive again, “you must not ever stop being whimsical“.

A doe

A doe

Wild blueberries

Wild blueberries


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. June F. Emmert
    Aug 01, 2015 @ 15:11:19

    “Picking Blueberries” by Mary Oliver—she is one of my favorites. I like your
    explanations as well as the poem–so beautifully written. Thank you, June F. Emmert


  2. Krisz
    Aug 01, 2015 @ 17:14:39

    I am so glad that you started to post again. Now I wake up to a nice poem and your analysis adds to the enjoyment. I was going to suggest you to post, next to the title, the date or time frame in which each poem was written, if possible. It makes a big difference to know what was going on in the world while the poem was written. Again, thank you for making me pause for a while in my busy day and feel the beauty of words.


  3. Lady Fancifull
    Aug 01, 2015 @ 17:17:16

    A new poet to me. Thank you for the fine introduction, Emily


  4. ellen6014
    Aug 01, 2015 @ 21:28:56

    Thank you – this is beautiful and really spoke to me.


  5. richinaword
    Aug 02, 2015 @ 01:04:23

    … captures those special moments in life that live forever in the mind


  6. James Sargent
    Aug 02, 2015 @ 05:09:32

    You illuminate this poem for me beautifully Emily. And I appreciate the cross referencing to works by other poets. Thank you.


  7. James
    Aug 02, 2015 @ 06:24:26

    The more I read this poem, the deeper and more beautiful it becomes for me. Thanks for introducing this poem to me and your other followers!


  8. salooper57
    Aug 16, 2015 @ 00:59:42

    Thanks for this poem, and your explication. I love the idea of your blog, and appreciate you reading and taking the time to like mine. Have you considered posting something from Billy Collins?


  9. Catherine Hamrick
    Aug 20, 2015 @ 01:31:07

    Thanks for sharing this–and for dropping by my site.


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