Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: https://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/handle/10635/228004
Title: “MAYBE DEATH ISN’T DARKNESS, AFTER ALL”: VIOLENT AND PREDATORY ANIMALS IN MARY OLIVER’S POETRY
Authors: DAVID TAY ANG SHUN
Issue Date: 11-Apr-2022
Citation: DAVID TAY ANG SHUN (2022-04-11). “MAYBE DEATH ISN’T DARKNESS, AFTER ALL”: VIOLENT AND PREDATORY ANIMALS IN MARY OLIVER’S POETRY. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: Writing about vultures in her early collection, American Primitive, Mary Oliver celebrates the predator’s ability to “eat” death and “to make of it the miracle:/resurrection” (American Primitive 37). Death and predation are not, therefore, seen as aesthetically beautiful subjects in and of themselves unless they are negated by regeneration. But Oliver seems to change her stance on predatory animals in her 2003 collection, Owls and Other Fantasies: her speaker realises that “maybe death/isn’t darkness, after all” (Owls 59). And equally intriguing is the newfound opacity of predatory otherness which she “can’t imagine in any such proximity” (Owls 22). This paper thus examines the evolution of Oliver’s ethical and stylistic concerns from her earlier collections to Owls. I argue that Oliver expands on her vision of the natural world in Owls and suggests that, in order to fully witness the beauty of nature, such a vision must include predatory animals. I also argue that in Oliver’s reinterpretation of her poetics, she grapples with the ethics of anthropomorphism. Oliver re-examines her two main strategies of ethically representing animals, namely: 1) resisting the pathetic fallacy, which becomes more opaque in the face of predators; 2) understanding animals through their “network of meaning ” (Clark 195), which sees the network extending further to capture the predators’ all-encompassing diet. I also compare her works to the animal poetry of Ted Hughes and D.H. Lawrence to highlight her unique use of her speaker’s fear of violent animals as a way of portraying predatory subjectivity. This paper therefore aims to investigate how Mary Oliver contributes to the larger debate of animal representation in poetry.
URI: https://scholarbank.nus.edu.sg/handle/10635/228004
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