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Analysis of “Where Does the Temple Begin. Where Does It End?” by Mary Oliver

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There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long. The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God. And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier. The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily, out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing from the unreachable top of the tree. I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open. And thinking: maybe something will come, some shining coil of wind, or a few leaves from any old tree –they are all in this too. And now I will tell you the truth. Everything in the world comes. At least, closer. And, cordially. Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake. Like goldfinches, little dolls of gold fluttering around the corner of the sky of God, the blue air. Glossary: Lily: “type of plant that grows from a bulb and that has large white or colored flowers”.

Finch: “is a small bird with a strong beak”. The poem where does the temple begin, where does it end? Was Written by Mary Oliver and Published in 2004 by Beacon Press in the book Why I Wake Early. Mary Oliver is one of the most famous American poets. She was borns on September 10, 1935, Maple Heights, Ohio. Her job is a poet and she has taught at several universities. Furthermore, she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 the L. L. Win ship/PEN New England Award in 1990, and the National Book Award in 1992, and her essays appeared in Best American Essays 1996, 1998, and 2001. Oliver loves nature and its inspiration and describes the sense of wonder it instills in her. Her creativity is inspired by nature. Moreover, Oliver’s poems are filled with lots of imagery and that is because of her daily walks near her home and close to nature. The meaning of the title is a question, about where can you start looking and thinking and wonders about miraculous things in nature and where you stop doing that. She uses the word temple to give the idea that nature is a sacred thing.

The main theme of the poem is that the writer wants us (the readers) to look at nature with a sense of exploration. Everything will come to you in the end, whether it is something you want to discover in nature or in other meanings you want to achieve in your life. There are 15 lines in the poem. The speaker is a woman, probably the poet herself. The rhythm of the poem is fast and energetic. The poem doesn’t have a rhyme scheme. There are four similes and one metaphor in the poem. This poem is all about nature and a sense of wonder. In the first two lines, the speaker tells us that there are some things you can’t have. You can’t reach them. Even if you try all day long, you will not reach all of them, for example, some birds in the top of the tree or some beautiful fish in a pond. Maybe she also means that there are some dreams you will not be able to achieve all of. Even if you try and work hard to achieve them for several years, you can’t make them all happen. However, you still can have some faith that you may be able to reach some of them if you want it deeply.

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Line 3 describes the wonderful things that you can see in nature that are made by god. Line 4 tells us that all these amazing creatures were made by god. Line 5 continues from line 3-4 the feeling that all this nature that God created can keep you busy and wondering about the greatness of nature’s creation. As busy as anything else is a simile, which means that nature can capture a lot of your time. Just looking at it and the variety of the creatures that you can see in nature can captivate your soul and brain for your sense of happiness and joyfulness. Inline 6 the writer gives us an image in the phrase the snake slides away. Here the writer describes the wonderful movement of a snake that can make you curious to know how it is created. Furthermore, in the same line the speaker give us a simile when she describes the jumping of a fish like a little lily which is a “type of plant that grows from a bulb and that has large white or colored flowers”. The writer also gives us another great image of nature: The goldfinches sing from the unreachable top of the tree.

Here unreachable top of the tree is connected to the first line of the poem where there are things you can’t reach even if you want to like the goldfinches who sing from a far place. Inline 7 the writer invites us to look at nature by saying I look and then saying morning tonight where she means she looks at nature all day long without feeling bored or done with looking. Inline 8 the writer tells us that inline 7 when she said looking she didn’t mean just standing around in nature, but standing around as though with your arms open. Here I think the writer means that your mind should be open and think about what God created. Inline 9 the poet extends this idea by saying that when you stand around with your mind open and working, maybe something will come to you, for example, a shining coil of wind. Maybe she means some air which will give you an energetic spirit. Moreover when Oliver says a few leaves from any old tree, maybe she means that it may be you in your childhood or any old memory. In-Line 10 the writer wants to get our attention by saying I will tell you the truth as if she will tell us secret or give us advice.

In Lines 11-12 Oliver explains that, by saying everything in the world comes and I think she means here that anything you want will come to you ( you will achieve it ) and will happen for you. The phrase at least closer means at a closer time. Inline 13 she completes lines 11-12by saying that the things that will happen, will happen cordially (in a friendly way). Inline 14 Oliver uses a simile in the phrase like the nibbling; tinsel –eyed fish; the unlooping snake. Oliver focuses on the state of these animals just to let us imagine with her the small details. Line 15 also has a simile in the phrase like goldfinches which means that the birds (goldfinches) will also come at least in the end, and here lines 13-14 are related to line 11. In the phrase little dolls of gold Oliver uses a metaphor, saying that the goldfinches are like small dolls. Moreover fluttering around the corner of the sky of god means moving and flying in the area of the sky which belongs to the god, and the blue air refers to the sky where you will see the goldfinches flying. In conclusion, where does the temple begin? Where does it end? is a poem that is about nature. Furthermore, it has some hope and supports us because in my opinion experiencing nature and having some new air can change your mood and your feeling. This poem is one of the best poems I have read because I like nature and animals and it reminds me of my town Salalah. However, the poem lacks the rhyme scheme element which is in my opinion a weakness in the poem. Furthermore, it has simple words and actually it has an energetic spirit. Moreover, nature is always my favorite theme.


  1. Oxford dictionary Oxford University Press 2006 printed in china HTML
  3. Oliver is a book” Why I Wake Early”
  4. http://rinabeana. com/poemoftheday/index.php/category/mary-oliver
  5. Retrieved on 3122012 an article by Ratner Rochelle written on Apr 15, 2006 www.
  6. Retrieved on 12122012 Image for Oliver
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