Poetry, The Summer Day, Mental Rejuvenation, Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize, Nature, Grasshopper, Metamorphosis, Rat Race, Mental Health

“The Summer Day”

Mary Oliver’s poignant words in “The Summer Day” not only contemplate the origins of creation but also guide us toward an uplifting understanding of our own mental well-being. Oliver was a Pulitzer Prize winner who often wrote of themes of nature in her poetry, inspired by her real-life experiences. Oliver’s poem suggests a simpler meaning to life, which is simply, to exist and enjoy the world as it’s presented to you.

“…Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes…”

In the grasshopper’s delicate movements, we find a metaphor for our own lives. Sometimes flinging ourselves into the unknown, sometimes savouring life’s sweetness. The image of the grasshopper, with jaws moving unconventionally and eyes so intricate, serves as a reminder that uniqueness and complexity are inherent in every living being. 

As the grasshopper cleanses itself and takes flight, we witness a transformation that transcends the physical realm. This metamorphosis can also mirror our mental states—a reminder that even amidst challenges and uncertainties, we possess the power to renew ourselves and rise above.

The poem asks us to reconsider what we do with our time everyday–what does it mean to be productive? It implicitly asks us to value spending time with nature and our own thoughts just as much as completing chores and finishing tasks for work. Time spent in enjoyment and appreciation is not a waste. The modern world can feel hopeless with its endless amount of work and constant push for hustle culture. Oliver’s poem reminds us that our time on earth is temporary and needs to be appreciated, and though “Life is the longest thing we do”, it is still all too short to not take breaks and enjoy the small beauties of life.

“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”

Sitting in nature and practicing mindfulness or focusing on the environment improves mental health and can help us avoid catastrophizing. It reminds us of the bigger picture, allowing us to relax about daily problems troubling us. Oliver reminds us to take a moment to stop getting caught up in the daily rat race, look at the world around us, and appreciate the life we’ve been given. She leaves us with one final, introspective question:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

Read the full poem here.

Image Credits:
Feature Image: Slav Romanov, On Unsplash. Creative Commons.