Oliver, Mary




"Sunrise," originally published in Oliver's 1986 collection Dream Work and republished in her 1992 collection New and Selected Poems Volume One, explores how and why we do the work we do. Are we willing to die for our work? Does our work come out of a love for shared humanity? Do we work to be something greater than ourselves? To reach out to those who are different than us? To create ourselves? Does it make us happy? What does it mean to, as Oliver puts it, “enter the fire?” This poem offers an opportunity to explore all of these questions and reflect on the motives and values that inspire us.

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Justice and EqualityMotives and ValuesNature and the EnvironmentWisdom and ContemplationWork and Vocation

Big Questions

What would you be willing to give up for equality? What would you not be willing to give up?What motivates us to act in the world?What do we hope to learn from meditation or contemplation?What do I hope my work accomplishes?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why does the narrator begin with, “You can/die for it --/an idea,/or the world”? How does that opening strike you?
  2. Why does the narrator think of China and India and Europe?
  3. Why does the speaker ask, “What is my name?”
  4. What is the happiness the speaker seems to describe?
  5. Would you want to enter the fire as the poet describes it?
  6. Are there ideas worth dying for?
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