Technology and other aspects of daily life are constantly being improved, not only to better our knowledge and power but to enhance the quality of life of many, which lowers the level of discomfort that most encounter. In today’s society, most people are used to comfort and to staying inside of a “comfort zone,” therefore often never experiencing hardship or discomfort, unless required to do so. Through the use of imagery, whether brief or descriptive, Mary Oliver touches upon the subject of discomfort, its positives, and its necessity in “Starfish” and “Farm Country.” “Starfish” uses deep imagery to convey the message that we must face our fears and step out of that comfort zone in order to love and appreciate all of our world and to become less afraid; meanwhile, “Farm Country” uses brief, unpleasant imagery to show that life is not as pleasant as it seems because someone must do the uncomfortable, unpleasant work to allow him or herself, and others, to reach that final, comfortable moment or position in life.
By showing a fear of starfishes being conquered, Mary Oliver allows for the reader to see that stepping out of one’s comfort zone can lead to positive results. This conquering of a fear is shown through her imagery and descriptions of the starfishes, which she begins by comparing them to “sponges/…too many thumbs” (6-7) when she is afraid to touch them, and ends by comparing them to “flowers…flecks/ of an uncertain dream” (31-32) once she is no longer afraid. This change from negative to positive imagery shows how conquering a fear and stepping out of a comfort zone can positively impact one’s views. Mary Oliver says exactly what she wants the readers to understand, “what I wanted/ was to draw my hands back/…to be willing/ to be afraid” (8-12), in retrospect to being afraid of putting her hand in the water, followed by “but I stayed there” (13) in order to conquer her fear. This allowed for her fear to diminish, as seen when she says “it never grew easy,/ but at last I grew peaceful/…my fear diminished” (26-29), which allowed her to “[learn]/ little by little to love/ our only world” (34-36), showing that to see all of nature’s beauty and to love all of our world, one must face his or her fears. Oliver also adds a question into “Starfish” to make readers reflect upon her writing and upon the message of the poem to, hopefully, make them realize that they must go out of their comfort zones to truly accomplish something: “What good does it do/ to lie all day in the sun/ loving what is easy?” (23-25).
In “Starfish,” the use of deep, changing imagery is the main element to show the change that one goes through when facing a fear; meanwhile, in “Farm Country,” Mary Oliver also uses imagery, in a different manner, to convey the discomfort and unease that one goes through to allow someone else to have comfort and easy. Both poems have negative, unpleasant imagery, but “Starfish” ends with positive, beautiful imagery regarding the starfishes that were previously negatively described, while “Farm Country” keeps the negative imagery throughout. Along with the imagery being similar at first yet different at the end, the tone also seems to do the same through both poems. In “Starfish,” Oliver begins with a negative tone as she talks about the starfish, and begins to have a much more positive, loving tone towards the end, once she has conquering her fear. On the other hand, “Farm Country” maintains a negative tone, as it maintains the negative imagery, throughout the poem.
The unpleasant imagery used by Mary Oliver in “Farm Country” allows for the reader to see and imagine what one goes through to give someone else comfort and how some people do not see that life has hardships and discomfort. She begins the poem by talks of “sharpened… knives” (1) and a “heavy apron” (2). This imagery, which resembles that of a butcher, is followed by “maybe you think life is chicken soup, served/ in blue willow-pattern bowls” (3-4), which is followed by the unpleasant imagery of the narrator putting on boots, crossing the grass, and going into the hen house. With the imagery and description, it is clear that the narrator is going to the hen house with the knives to get chicken for that chicken soup, which must be unpleasant, or at least a less-than-comfortable experience. This likely shows that some go through unpleasant times to make sure that someone else must not go through that discomfort and gets to live a happier life. However, it is also possible that it means that some people never go through rough times and believe life is always peaceful and comfortable, without realizing that there are others who struggle and have an unpleasant experience to get to the same point in life as those who “have it easy.”
Mary Oliver uses imagery in both “Starfish” and “Country Farm” to explore the idea of comfort. In “Starfish,” she uses deep, changing imagery to show the positives of discomfort and why one should step out of their comfort zone occasionally. “Farm Country,” although still using imagery, uses it briefly and unpleasantly to show that discomfort is necessary and a part of many people’s lives.
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