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Mary Oliver's "Poem" is an evocative exploration of the relationship between spirit and body, abstract and concrete, and the tangible and intangible elements of existence. It attempts to demystify the ethereal by grounding it in physical reality, presenting a compelling case for the interconnectedness of all things. The poem itself functions as a kind of celebration of this duality, suggesting that even in its ethereal state, the spirit seeks the corporeal world for a richer experience.

The opening lines introduce the spirit as a being that "likes to dress up" in the human form, with "ten fingers, ten toes, shoulders, and all the rest." This choice of phrasing immediately brings forth the idea of incarnation as a kind of theater, as if the spirit takes on human attributes not out of necessity but out of desire to engage with materiality. This is reinforced by the statement that the spirit "could float, of course, but would rather plumb rough matter." The word "plumb" is crucial here, implying both depth and measurement; the spirit seeks to deeply engage with the tangible aspects of existence.

Oliver employs simple yet evocative language, forgoing rhyme and meter for a free-verse structure that allows the content to breathe. This gives her room to delve into the complexities of her theme without being constricted by form. The spirit needs "the metaphor of the body," which is described as "lime and appetite, the oceanic fluids." This creates a vivid picture of the human body as a vast, complicated landscape that the spirit wishes to navigate.

The poem then moves from the material to the intangible. The spirit needs "the body's world, instinct and imagination and the dark hug of time, sweetness and tangibility, to be understood." The use of the term "dark hug of time" is a masterstroke, humanizing an abstract concept in a way that meshes perfectly with the poem's overarching theme. Time, usually thought of as an oppressive, limiting force, is here presented as something almost comforting, a framework within which both body and spirit can operate and be understood.

In the concluding lines, the poem achieves a form of synthesis, describing how the spirit "enters us" and "shines from brute comfort like a stitch of lightning" in the mornings, and "lights up the deep and wondrous drownings of the body like a star" at night. These lines encapsulate the miraculous ordinariness of existence-the way the extraordinary manifests itself in the mundane, reminding us of the profound relationship between our physical and spiritual selves.

Oliver's "Poem" is a call to awareness, urging us to recognize and honor the sublime in the everyday. It invites us to perceive ourselves as complex unities of body and spirit, each enriching the other in a continual interplay of opposites that renders life both comprehensible and infinitely mysterious.


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