Mary Oliver's The Leaf and the Cloud is both a pondering and a questioning of how the poem can be used as a reflection of the natural world. As the speaker says in "From The Book of Time" on page 17, "maybe the world, without us, / is the real poem."
If you love to read descriptions of the natural world and consider what our role is as both inhabiters and observers of nature, get this book. It is a startling and beautiful rendering of how a poem can use the sensuality of nature to explore emotion, circumstance, and philosophical questioning. Great stuff.
Here is an excerpt from "Work," a lengthy segment in which the speaker muses over the nature and purpose of writing poetry.
All day I have been pining for the past.
That's when the big dog, Luke, breathed at my side.
Then she dashed away then she returned
in and out of the swales, in and out of the creeks,
her dark eyes snapping.
Then she broke, slowly,
in the rising arc of a fever.
And now she's nothing
except for mornings when I take a handful of words
and throw them into the air
so that she dashes up again out of the darkness,
this is the world.
The speaker is describing the process of writing memory into poetry. By throwing a "handful of words...into the air," she conjures her dog Luke to her side. "This is the world," the speaker states; not just what we can actively touch and see and hear, but also that which we create from our own minds. To the poet, memory can be as tangible and present as the world rushing around right outside the door.