A Near-Death Experience Breeds RebirthHow close have you come to dying? What value do you place on your own life? Mary Oliver poses these very deep and thought-provoking questions to the reader in her short poem, Alligator Poem.In the poem, the persona has an experience in which she comes very close to death: an alligator walks by her as she drank some water out of a river while sitting on a riverbank. Oliver describes it in this way: I didn't understand/I drank up to the very moment it came/crashing toward me/its tail flailing/like a bundle of swords/slashing the grass/and the inside of its cradle-shaped mouth/gaping/and rimmed with teeth and/that's how I almost died/of foolishness/in beautiful Florida.Clearly she has had a near-death experience. The language used in describing that passage shows true fear:
tail flailing/like a bundle of swords/slashing the grass. This experience has exposed the persona to the very real possibilities of death.
This experience also was most likely the personas first near-death experience. Oliver indicates this with the statement
thats how I almost died/of foolishness/in beautiful Florida. People who have many near-death experiences usually always exercise caution in situations that could be fatal. In this situation, she walked directly up to the river bank and stuck her nose in, and started drinking (
I didnt understand/I drank up to the very moment it came).
The rest of the poem goes on to show how the persona changed and reacted from this near-death experience. She clearly takes a new value for life away from her first near-death experience:
but about how I rose from the ground/and saw the world as if for the second time/the way it really is. The transformation that she shows after the experience can be attributed to the new value that she places on life, which before the near-death experience was much lower. Most likely, she will exercise caution further in the future.
Another aspect that the...
Cited: liver, Mary. "Alligator Poem." 50 Great Poems and Short Stories. Random House, 1990.
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