In ‘Morning Poem’, Mary Oliver uses the imagery of a sunrise to speak of a new day and the hope it brings. She juxtaposes the light and the dark to comment on happiness and sadness. Through imagery, she shows how those in different mindsets—the happy and the sad—perceive the dawn of a new day. However, Oliver weaves a thread of hope throughout the poem. A new day means fresh hope if one is there to witness it.
Mary Oliver was an American poet. The natural world inspired her poetry, as we will see in our analysis of ‘Morning Poem.’ This poem was published in Oliver’s collection Dream Works in 1986.
Explore Morning Poem
In ‘Morning Poem’, Mary Oliver uses imagery to speak of new beginnings, highlighting that hope can be found in a new day no matter what.
This poem is a hopeful commentary on fresh starts. It offers the reader hope because the new day is a recreation, a new beginning where ‘ashes…turn into leaves again.’ No matter what went before, the dawn of a new day is a chance to start over again. It is a rebirth, a chance for the happy to continue in that vein and for the sad to find that spring of happiness.
You can read the poem in full here.
Hope is the main theme in ‘Morning Poem’ by Mary Oliver. She offers the dawn of a new day as an opportunity for a fresh start. Even if one is unhappy, a new day is a reset, a chance to find happiness. This is an optimistic outlook, one of hope.
In the detailed analysis, let us focus on how Oliver sets the scene and utilizes imagery to speak of new beginnings and hope. We will take a closer look at each of the nine stanzas.
Firstly, let us look at stanza one in full:
Under the orange
The first three lines are a statement. Together with the title, they focus the reader on the subject, the morning. You may notice the use of enjambment here. The lines are cut off before their natural stopping point. Oliver uses this technique throughout the poem. It fits well with the new beginnings the poet wants to convey. Each line is a new beginning but continues from what went before, just like a new day. So, Oliver tells us of recreation at the start of each day and uses enjambment to bolster our focus. She wants us to keep recreation, new beginnings, in mind as we read the poem.
sticks of the sun
turn into leaves again
Following on from the last line of the first stanza, Oliver writes this first line of the second: ‘sticks of the sun.’ Here, we get a beautiful image of sun rays falling on the earth. It is illuminating. The light coming into the world represents hope. Under this sunlight, the ‘ashes of the night / turn into leaves again.’ The use of ‘ashes’ is interesting here. It draws our focus to fire. That could be interpreted as ashes from the previous day, from the fire of the sun. One day is burned away into the ashes of the night. However, a rebirth comes again with the rising sun, a new beginning. Think of a phoenix rising from the ashes anew. Reborn. This rebirth signifies hope.
and fasten themselves to the high branches–
on which are painted islands
The third stanza continues with beautiful imagery. We see the leaves high on the branches of trees. Combined with the sunrays, we can picture them glittering in the morning light. Also, we see ponds ‘like black cloth / on which are painted islands.’ Ending the stanza here encourages the reader to continue to find out what these islands are.
In the fourth stanza, we discover that the islands are summer lilies on the ponds. So, Oliver is painting a picture for us. She has now set the scene of a sunrise in nature. In nature, we are positioned to consider the cycle of life. Again, this points to new beginnings. These are the last three lines of the fourth stanza:
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
In this stanza, Oliver first introduces happiness into the equation. If you are in a happy state of mind, you will immediately see the beauty in nature and let it carry you off. This happiness is a continuation of the light from the previous day. Happiness reignited.
for hours, your imagination
carries within it
The opening of the fifth stanza continues this thread. However, the second half of this stanza offers a contrast. Interestingly, it is also exactly the halfway point of the poem when this contrast is introduced. So, think of the contrasts so far: night and day, dark and light. Oliver has just introduced happiness, so with these contrasts in mind, we are now positioned to think about sadness.
In stanza six, Oliver introduces this sadness. The stanza reads:
to keep on trudging-
So, the sadness is a thorn weighing you down. Under this weight, the poet acknowledges that this beauty may be difficult to see. All the concentration is focused on just keeping going. It paints an image of someone struggling along, head down, unable to see the surrounding beauty. However, it is there.
there is still
is exactly what it wanted–
The seventh stanza introduces hope into this darkness of the mind. Even if one is struggling, deep down the darkness wants to see the light. Just as the sunlight casts the darkness aside, illuminates leaves from the ashes of the night, happiness can spring from the sadness and displace it. Here, Oliver likens the dawning of a new day to a new emotional beginning. The darkness does not have to last forever. There is the possibility of a rebirth, a new cycle to replace the sadness.
each pond with its blazing lilies
In the eighth stanza, the poet continues this optimism. She compares the ‘blazing lilies’ on the ponds to ‘a prayer heard and answered’. This builds on the introduction of hope in the previous stanza. The new day is a new opportunity for rebirth. Oliver wants the reader to recognize this recreation. Think back to the first lines. The world is created every day. Each new day is like a reset for nature and for you. There is optimism in the new beginning.
Let us read the last stanza in full:
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray
This stanza reinforces the optimistic message. The light is there, the new beginning happens whether you have dared to look upon it or not. Even if you have not asked for rebirth, the possibility is there. Every day is a chance to see the light, to feel happiness. It might not be easy, but the opportunity is there. Oliver is encouraging readers to lift their heads and see it.
Mary Oliver is from America. She was born in Maple Heights, Ohio. During her life, she lived in Massachusetts and Florida.
Yes, Mary Oliver was a successful poet. Her collection, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. Her poetry also won the National Book Award.
The natural world inspired Mary Oliver’s poetry. She cited the wonder of nature as her inspiration. This shows in her poetry, with many collections focusing on nature.
If you liked ‘Morning Poem’ by Mary Oliver, you may also like these two poems:
- ‘To Autumn’ by John Keats
- ‘Hope’ by Emily Brontë