Last Updated 17 May 2021

Rhetorical Analysis Mary Oliver

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In this very lyrical excerpt, Mary Oliver has a great attraction to nature because of its paradoxical yet balancing form. By being both terrifying and beautiful, nature fills the world with contrasting entities that can be “death-bringers” or bring “immobilizing happiness. ” Oliver uses imagery, parallelism, and contrasting to express her swaying emotions of fear, awe, and happiness towards nature. The imagery creates a very distinct contrast between terrifying and beautiful parts of nature.

The frightening great horned owl has “razor-tipped toes” that “rasp the limb” and a “hooked beak” that makes a “heavy, crisp, breathy snapping. ” The physical form is rough and rugged, reminiscent of a terrifying being. The owl is presented with characteristics of the “night” and “blackness,” The flowers, on the other hand, are like “red and pink and white tents. ” The color contrast reinforces the complete oppositeness of the flowers and the owl. Contrasting continues throughout the excerpt to display the conflicting character of nature. Nature is so complex that even very similar animals have very differing aspects.

Oliver can “imagine the screech owl on her wrist” and she can learn from the snowy owl, but the great horned owl will cause her to “fall” if it “should touch her. ” Even though this great horned owl is terrifying, Oliver still is in amazement of it. She says it would become the “center of her life. ” While “the scream of the rabbit” in “pain and hopelessness” is terrible, it is not comparable with the “scream of the owl” which is of “sheer rollicking glory. ” Nature has extremes, and the owl is the extreme of terror. The flowers, however, represent the extreme of happiness.

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Through parallelism, Oliver exemplifies the happiness given by the fields of flowers. The flowers have “sweetness, so palpable” that it overwhelms Oliver. She uses phrases continually beginning with “I’m” and then a verb, to show how the fields engulf her like a “river. ” She is then “replete, supine, finished, and filled” with an “immobilizing happiness. ” The continual use of adjectives reinforces how the field is so vast and “excessive” that it creates an almost surreal feeling of satisfaction. Parallelism is also used to describe the great horned owl. The merciless elentlessness of the owl is so great that it hunts “even skunks, and even cats thinking peaceful thoughts. ” Its “insatiable craving for the taste of brains” is so excessive that the owl is “endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt. ” The uncontrollable, terrifying nature of the great horned owl further emphasized because “if it could, it would eat the whole world. ” The owl causes so much terror that soon enough the terror becomes “naturally and abundantly part of life,” any life of any world. The terror even fills the “most becalmed, intelligent sunny life” that Oliver lives in.

Despite the massive contrast between the two extremes of nature, there is still a universal concept of nature. Both the owl and the field of flowers are overwhelming, vast and “excessive. ” The owl is so overpowering that “if it could, it would eat the whole world. ” The fields “increase in manifold” creating an “immutable force. ” Oliver asks two rhetorical questions, “And is this not also terrible? ” and “Is this not also frightening,” to describe the excessiveness of the fields and also the owl. But, even though Oliver is frightened, she is also amazed.

While continuously describing the owl as terrifying, Oliver still acknowledges that the owl is “perfect” and “swift. ” Even though the fields of roses seemingly engulf in a terrifying manner, it still creates a feeling “full of dreaming and idleness. ” The combination of opposites, the owl and the field of roses, shows how nature can be seemingly paradoxical by being both cruel and sweet at the same time. By being so complex, nature also requires a complex response. Oliver’s emotional and sensuous response is filled with conflicting feelings of fear, happiness, and amazement to show her attachment to nature.

Rhetorical Analysis Mary Oliver essay

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