Analysis: “Owls” Passage by Mary Oliver

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At first the purpose of the passage “Owls” by Mary Oliver is difficult to pinpoint. This is because Oliver begins with describing the penetrating fear of a “terrible” (33) great horned owl, and suddenly develops into a section discussing a desultory and trivial field of flowers. The mystifying comparison between the daunting fear of nature and its impeccable beauty is in fact Oliver’s purpose.
Oliver uses hyperbole in her lyrical and poetic diction to convey her true feelings about nature. She is both in awe of the “palpable… sweetness” (54) of nature and afraid of its “natural[] and abundant…terror” (37-38).
The passage begins with extreme imagery about a terrifying, “merciless” (16), “endlessly hungry” (41) creature of darkness with an “insatiable craving for the taste of brains” (22-23) that would “eat the whole world” (26) if it could. The great horned owl is described to be the epitome of horror. Oliver is struck with trepidation as she “look[s] up and listen[s] to the… snapping of its hooked beak” (4-6).
She then briefly describes the contrast between the great horned hunter and other owls. Owls are physically similar creatures, but Oliver uses the differences of the great horned owl, the screech owl and the snowy which are “delicate” (7) and can be “learn[ed] from” (10) to exaggerate the great horned owls’ fierceness.
Intense imagery, contrasts, comparisons, and parallelism are used in conveying the complexity of her feelings toward nature. She ties in the similarities between the terror-striking reaction to the great horned owl and the heart-striking happiness of a field of roses.
Oliver obviously has an attraction to nature, but what she finds so “myster[ious]” (37) is the paradoxical balance within the world. She is both terrified by nature’s brutality and in love with its beauty. She realizes that the world of the “death-bringer” (32) and the world of the “soft[” (53) “fields… of flowers” (49) is the same world; the very same “world in which

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