On Mary Oliver’s ‘Blue Horses’

Blue Horses: Poems (2014) by Mary Oliver

I return to Mary Oliver’s ‘Blue Horses’ with reverence. The collection was discussed in a book club meeting I attended only last week. It alerted me to the sheer variety of ways in which Oliver approaches the world with tenderness in this collection. So here I am on a Sunday morning, with the laundry calling out to me, returning to the poem ‘Such Silence’ with these memorable lines:

What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots / than reason. / I hope everyone knows that.

These sentiments so often capture our human need to believe in something above reason. This need for enchantment is what Oliver addresses adequately in this book. The biggest downside of the Enlightenment tradition has been that enchantment was left in the darkness, hidden and to be forgotten. I believe it was Roald Dahl (or is it CS Lewis?) who said something similar about magic, but Oliver’s sentiment is not about hidden magical worlds. But it is precisely about hidden magic worlds, hidden plainly in sight in the vicinity of humans, among the mangroves, the swallows, the owls and even the pebbles in her room. Especially the pebbles in her room. And the way in which this magic “has deeper roots” than reason, that human asset that supposedly sets up apart. Oliver is not just being a vitalist here but asserting the primacy of magic over reason from the perspective of a nature lover. She seems to be saying that the Enlightenment has not struck at the deeper roots of magic and that if we search in the right places, we will still find it. For her, the right places are where the owls hoot, the mangroves dream about flying up to the sky, and the pebbles drink water, i.e. anywhere.

Mary Oliver writes like she wants to be read by a carefree person in love, with nature, with the self, with another. But her writing is so heartbreakingly beautiful because it comes from a place of love, even in loss. Consider these lines from ‘Little Crazy Love Song’:

A gull broods on the shore/where a moment ago there were two./ Softly my right hand fondles my left hand/ as though it were you.

The softness of these lines is unparalleled. Something about them makes you want to hold the poem itself and comfort it with a hug. It is not a love song for those who rejoice in the presence of the beloved but the anticipated return of the beloved who is already lost. A love song for the lost love.

There are many other things that are memorable about this collection: the vitalistic conversations with the biotic and the abiotic, the ambiguous fascination with tropical climes and the frequently hinted at mysterious process of being acclimatized to it, the defensiveness of explaining the eccentricity of the speaker in a poem (or in life to a bunch of friends) and the overarching thread of relating to the natural. In all its cyclical normality, life and death are represented plainly without anxiety, with an acceptance and even an eagerness that is unnerving to read.

Oliver in this collection is patiently waiting for time, or the end of time, itself:

I eat up a few wild poems/ while time creeps along/ as though it’s got all day.

While waiting, she consumes wild poems, drawing an equivalence between boldly worded ideas with soft wild berries. And that is how she sees every poem: the softness and the wildness connecting it to what the natural is for her.

P.S.: I have much more to say about this book. When time allows, I will frame it into an essay and hang it in some corner for you to read.


Facebook, Thoreau and Our Obsession with News

We live in a very interesting world where our individual attention span is continuously reducing. I’ve heard many of my friends complain about not being able to read a novel or watch a documentary for a stretch of time, without being forced to check their phones. We are so thirsty for information, both personal/communicative and general news updates on our phones, that we have forgotten how to concentrate for more than the 2-minutes required to browse through a List Post! Social media marketing is an altogether different sport these days. It has developed its own techniques, rooting entrepreneurs and even self-employed artisans to social media, in a cruel twisted way, changing the concept of advertisements forever. (The irony of posting this blog article on FB is not lost on me.) I’m even failing to focus on a T20 cricket match, forced to check FB for instant memes on what I just saw on TV. This is a shameful, cruel joke by evolution. Or maybe its just shameful.

MUST CREDIT: @esmith_images/Instagram This Instagram photo shows a man missing a humpback whale surface two feet away from him because he was glued to his phone. The moment was caught during a whale watch in Redondo Beach, California, professional photographer Eric Smith told ABC News today. Smith said he had about five photos of whales with the private sailboat in the background, but the guy never got off his phone in any of the pictures.

Today, I was reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau, the man who allegedly inspired Gandhi on notions of civil disobedience. Thoreau lived by a lake in a cottage he made himself, secluded from the outside world for two years. It was basically a self-imposed Big Brother reality show, minus the cameras and contestants. Walden is about his experience living the lonely life and he meticulously outlines his philosophy and daily requirements. It reads like a life manifesto sometimes and like a personal account diary at other times. One by one, he tears apart the reasons humans have to need everything we have, including food, shelter, clothes, money etc. Sure, his ideas do not seem widely applicable to everyone everywhere, but the gist is to live a minimally material life. Very transcendental, indeed. The part that interested me most was his perception about news or information being a central part of human life. He wonders why humans are so obsessed with happenings around the world, when nothing new ever takes place (think Benjamin of Animal Farm). Wars, accidents, death, discovery — all of this has happened and will keep happening, he says, and casually denounces the idea of staying informed.

The cover says it all

Of course, it’s easy to disagree and point out how impractical Thoreau is. But think of this for a minute. Isn’t he right? This constant need for new information (NEWs) is a defining feature of human life. With all these gadgets today this need is even more obsessive and inevitable. We are bombarded with new information every time we log onto the Internet. Or when we skip through channels on TV. Or when we pick up the newspaper. Today we also have the highest rate of anxiety related problems in the world and the term “informed opinion” has attained new meanings. How informed? How many articles on a topic should you read before forming an informed opinion? Because God knows there are plenty out there, with new events and interpretations coming in by the minute!

Yet, I know people who are happily unaware/ vaguely aware of events in the world, living their own life, seemingly apathetic, as if Trump does not even exist, as if there isn’t a bombing happening every day, as if there aren’t nuclear reactors suddenly leaking and mysteriously being ignored in spite of that…. And they are happy. Ignorance is bliss.


Even being aware of this problem does not help. I will still need to “stay informed,” thanks to my university education which made me more politically and socially aware than I would have asked for. As for social media, I’m still on Facebook because it is my primary news source and rant outlet. Once, during college I deactivated Facebook, taking all the necessary precautions. I tried using other Apps that would show me news on relevant topics (Weebly) and even an App that would let me store multitude of articles until I get to actually reading them (Instapaper, Pocket). Needless to say, it just wasn’t the same. Neither of these apps matched up to FB’s knowledge of what I wanted to read nor would they let me respond to what I was reading in a meaningful way. Not to mention, the lack of memes. Phew.


So then, I realized that it is my need to get the right information and the urge to respond to that information, essentially broadcast it, which is keeping me from leaving. Which brings me to my next post, on the need to have opinions and being politically correct. Until then.

What Elizabeth Gilbert Said

Sometimes you read a book that informs not the technicalities of your writing, but the very reason to write. It kindles in you a fire to try and follow the path prescribed in it, not in a biblical enlightening way, but more as a reminder of what you already knew deep inside. Truth is, it tells you what you have never articulated to yourself, in those thoughtful silences or stolen moments of reflection, in a language that only your mind hacks through. If so, capturing those truths in words is a task indeed. I’m glad this was one of those books.

Having never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love I was not familiar with her writing style. Not a huge fan of stories that are about coming to India for spiritual self-actualization, honestly. But I had watched a TED video of her talking about imagination, muses  and creativity. It was impressive. And so, I started reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Gilbert, expecting something on similar lines. The first few pages were in fact right out of that TED video. But as I read on and on, I realized that Gilbert was redefining the truths and busting myths around creativity. Here are my major takeaways.

  • It takes courage to create anything. To create, not even to put it out there, but just to live in a creative way. When courage dies, creativity dies. Fear is not original, its boring and mundane.
  • Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest, and it could be by anybody available, in the right mindset. You don’t choose the idea, the idea chooses you. This is inspiration. And there’s enough to go around for everyone.
  • Whatever is bad for you, is bad for your work. Being a tormented artist and seeking out harrowing or self-destructive experiences in order to write about them is silly. Maybe the experiences make you a stronger person, a wiser person, but believing your writing is any worse, because you have not had a tough life, is an immature thought. Love over suffering, always.
  • Don’t wait for anybody’s permission or admiration to be creative. Decorate yourself. Embrace the entitlement of being creative. There’s a reason why man created art, even before he learned to farm.
  • You are not required to save the world or make a difference with your works. Nothing is frivolous. Every idea deserves to be manifest. Nothing is original, but you can make something authentic. Maybe an idea has been made manifest before, but it has not been made manifest by you.
  • Your attempt to create should be divorced from your need for validation.
  • Don’t quit your job to write. Do not burden the results of your creativity with your financial debts. Do not tell it to pay the bills. It is okay to have a day job. Creativity was never meant to provide, it was only ever meant to inspire. To create is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.
  • Rejections will come. Keep them coming. You promised yourself you will be a writer and rejection letters don’t make you any less of a writer. Put it out for the sake of the idea. For the sake of your muse. Nobody has to like, love or even read what you write. Its a tryst between you and the content. And its nobody else’s business. Do it just because. Do it because its fun.
  • Enjoy the phases of your creativity. Even the hard times. The act is worth it.
  • It matters/it doesn’t matter. Build space in your head for this paradox.
  • Trickster Trust: it’s a freaky wonderful game. Take it lightly. Redefine what success means to you. Divorce the business from the real deal. Your truth is probably the other person’s truth too. Your written words are probably what have been stuck in their throats. Accidental grace occurs when you’re playful and don’t keep store of the results. Go with the flow.
  • It ain’t your baby. If it has to be edited, it has to be edited.
  • Devote yourself to inquisitiveness. Curiosity is the death of writer’s block. The moment you say “that’s interesting!” is the moment a story idea shows up.
  • Your sense of dissatisfaction is your ego being a howling ghost. Remember that, every time you think being a perfectionist is a good thing. Done is better than good. Laziness and perfectionism are the worst habits for creative vocations.

All these are things that I had heard from people or read somewhere or realized at some point. How could she neatly capture all of this in one single book? I guess I shall come back to this every now and then… Almost makes me want to read Eat,Pray,Love.  Almost.

A Late Encounter


One book had sat untouched in my shelves for more than two years, amidst others that I had read and reread merely to discover new meanings . The book which my best friend had gifted me for my 15th birthday, which I had put away because it had then, made me sleepy.An International Bestseller that I had not read in spite of owning a copy and having heard of its immense success.It might not be a glamorous novel or a great masterpiece of English language but Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ is a feast to a hungry soul.

Day before yesterday, at my Chemistry tuitions, my friend Fathima was gift-wrapping ‘The Alchemist’ for one of her buddies. Well she’s a girl known for her crazy jokes and loud nature. But the fiery power with which she talked about this book made me wonder what was there in that book that created such a response in Fathima. Yesterday, tired of battling with Sumita Arora’s C++ text I decided to take a break . I started reading ‘The Alchemist’- first with scepticism, then curiosity and which later turned to pure wonder.It baffled and impressed me at the same time.To start with, it was a very plainly written book.No big words.No huffy-puffy difficult names for characters.Not even a proper division for chapters!Theology and metaphors governed it’s every page and the book was a bundle of questions that stumps a person at one point or the other in life.In fact, if you remove the philosophical part ‘The Alchemist’ is just an old fairytale of a shepherd and his queer ways, with an awesome climax.But Coelho teaches us about the Soul of the World with the air of a practised priest.It gives you reasons to make sacrifices and tells you to follow instincts.It prods you to love and also to leave your love for the greater good.It advises one to listen to the ‘treacherous’ heart and speaks about deserts and camels, a lot.

“The Alchemist” is indeed a magical story and the child in me cannot help but believe in it.My philosophical self wonders at Coelho’s inexplicable ability to simplify things and my literal self marvels at his saintly words.These 160 pages also left me with a question… Who really was The Alchemist? Is it really the man with the Elixir of Life and The Philosopher’s Stone or is it the young shepherd who learnt to summon the powers and spoke to the Hand of God. If you think it’s the former, think again…

I don’t know anything about ‘omens’ but I could not have chosen a better time to read this book.After Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ , only this book, has been a stimuli that touched the philosophical-receptors in me.My best friend who gifted it to me, knew that I’d like it.However the irony is that I ended up reading it at a time when she needed it more than me…

And to you Fathima, thank you. If it were not for you my encounter with Santiago and Fatima would have occurred much later in life. J

Harry Potter – The Boy Who Still Lives

As an 8 year old when I bought my first HP book it was just because the front cover fascinated me.Neither had I heard of it at that time nor had anybody suggested it to me.But today, even as a 15 year old “Harry Potter” still fills me with that awed, mysterious and sparkling feeling. Like driving through the Waynad hairpin bends with mist swirling around you..like you know it’s gonna be safe even though it’s dangerous…like you know nothing’s gonna go wrong even though the circumstances hint that they are .! It’s a homely feeling..a childhood-memory feeling..a fairytale feeling..HP made me a good reader and if it wasn’t for dear old JKR I might have been stuck with the mindset that books are always boring.Back in my UP school days we used to discuss a lot about the green-eyed jet-haired bespectacled famous boy.No recess was complete without mentioning HP at least once.Those were the days when I couldn’t sleep without reading at least a chapter of any HP book.Yes, now you get the picture right? A total HP maniac I was…My mother used to tease me saying that I read HP like old grandmas read Bhagvadgita everyday !(HA ! As though I cared !).Everyone loves to be swept off to a magical land where there’s a happy ending and everyone always lives “happily ever after“.I was no different and sometimes I felt that the world around me seems to be more unreal that JKR’s world.I totally lived in Hogwarts…
And then there was the movie fever which I thought narrowed down one’s imagination level..because then, you wouldn’t care to see Harry as anybody other than Dan and wouldn’t dare imagine what Hermione(not Emma !) would have really looked like during the Yule Ball.Yet, as a faithful HP fan, I saw every single HP movie (even though some really sucked).You know, there are some real vivid scenes that comes to your mind when you talk about HP.The high towers of Hogwarts against the bright sky, the scarlet Hogwarts Express running along emitting tufts of smoke, the Great Hall with its floating candles, Hagrid carrying a lantern, accompanied by his boar hound Fang and then…Harry , Ron and Hermione themselves..(no, NOT Dan, Rupert and Emma)……
Well, the books are just seven.And there won’t be any of them again.But Harry is still the Boy Who Lives… in all our hearts..

P.S : I felt like posting this, because I saw the 6th HP movie a few days back.Well of course, the film did not impress me as any of the books did, but even by HP standards it was ..well, kind of dragging. And as Taenaz said, somewhere in the middle, we thought we were back in a Physics class.