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The Theme of Nature in Mary Oliver’s “August”

The “August” is a poem included in Oliver’s third collection, American Primitive. In this collection, we see the author entering the perspective of an “Other”, following the Native American beliefs. In this collection, Oliver can be seen doing the narration by transforming into other life forms, usually an animal. This paper is an analysis of Oliver’s poem “August”, wherein, we can see that Oliver is completely immersed in the body of “Other”, which in the context, is a bear. In this poem, the poet has brought in the plight of a bear who is living “high in the woods” during summer. The thesis statement of the poem is that Oliver’s poems are romantically close to Mother Nature and this transformation and identification with the ‘Other’ make her an embodiment of empowered women.

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August is a poem told from a bear. As per Native American beliefs, the bear is the symbol of a free spirit. The great warriors of the Native American tribes were often compared to the bear, as this grand and massive animal was also the symbol for courage and strength, that remains mostly calm, but become ferocious if provoked in certain ways to evoke terror in the witnesses. The tribes, in their deep study on human nature and actions, related the potential power of the bear, to communicate the potential element of unpredictability and terror, evoking ferocity that may erupt, if provoked in certain ways. The bear, according to Native American beliefs, is a fierce spirit that mostly prefers peace, tranquility, harmony, balance, and bravery. Its teeth and claws make it a symbol of a successful hunt.

The title of the poem “August” itself denotes the intersections of the boundaries between the human and animal worlds. August denotes summer, in which bears have difficulty in searching for food in adequate amounts. The bears move to higher territories, to escape the heat and in search of food; especially berries. In “August”, Oliver has transformed herself into a bear that spends “all day among the high branches… thinking of nothing” (Oliver). In her transformation, she escapes from reality, wherein the mind lies separated from the body. Instead, she leans on the identity, her mind has chosen for her, of a bear, the symbol of strength, freedom, and motherhood. She accepts the identity of the ‘Other’, the bear, and she stays in the wood “cramming the black honey of summer [her] mouth” (Bates 3).

While devouring blackberries, she is nevertheless aware of the “dark creeks that run by” that act as a boundary between her ‘Self’ and the ‘Other,’ which is none other than the bear. Oliver delivers the fact to the readers that she has to travel back and forward, between the boundaries that distinguish human – the ‘Self’ and animal -the ‘Other’. This traveling establishes a complete and unified self for the poet. The human form gives her the capability to transform into the body of another. By transforming into a bear, she can enjoy the massive strength, the underlying ferocity, and the peace and tranquility of the bear simultaneously. By regaining her human composure, she can hold on to her identity and knowledge of who she is.

Oliver’s “August” stands as her ode to Mother Nature. In it, she has brought in the boundaries between the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’, the ‘Self’ and the ‘Nature,’ and human consciousness and unconsciousness. This poem, narrated in the perspective of a bear, belongs to the genre of modern nature poetry. She delves deep into Mother Nature to come up with the mythically significant figure of the bear. This is also an extension of her free-spirited mind. By transforming in- to a bear, she enjoys the strong physical form, power, and peaceful activities of the bear and is celebrates the primitive visions that reveal the necessity of being one with Mother Nature.

Works Cited

Oliver, Mary. August. Rinabeana. 2010. Web.

Bates, Robin. The Black Honey of Summer. WordPress. Better Living Through Beowulf. 2011.

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