BLUE PASTURES by Mary Oliver. (Harcourt Brace & Company: $21, 122 pp.) "If I have a meeting with you at three o'clock," writes Mary Oliver in a chapter on the flow of work, the work life of the writer, "rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all." "The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work . . . and gave to it nether power nor time." Oliver has, grace a dieu, given hers both. She is a powerful describer of nature (snowy egrets stare with "mad concentration," the legs of blue herons stir "the thick waters of summer," snapping turtles float in "lonely exhaustion"), a sympathetic but not sentimental evoker of moods and a playful teacher. From Walt Whitman she has learned that "the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak--to be company." As she walks, she records thoughts in notebooks that are intended to "return me to the moment and place of entry." They take her back "to the felt experience. . . . I can, then, think forward again to the idea . . . rather than back on it." In the natural world, she writes, she is at ease; from the world of literature she receives "the sustenation of empathy." "The world's otherness," she counsels, "is antidote to confusion . . . the beauty and mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books--can re-dignify the worst-stung heart." What good company Mary Oliver is!

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