The Journey by Mary Oliver Summary

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Mary Oliver's 'The Journey' uses the idea of a physical journey to relate the internal transformation that comes when you start listening to your own voice. In this lesson, we'll break down this poem and take 'the journey.'


Have you ever given much thought to the butterfly? Most prevalent in the summertime, the story of the butterfly is one of transformation.

The transformation of a butterfly is similar in theme to the Mary Oliver poem.
butterfly, transformation, the journey, mary oliver

That beautiful butterfly is born from a fuzzy, ugly caterpillar. One day, that caterpillar spins itself a cocoon. After a period of time working on itself, it re-emerges in a new body: the body of a beautiful butterfly!

Mary Oliver's 'The Journey' is a story similar to the transformation of the ugly caterpillar into the glorious butterfly. It's about finding your voice and becoming your one, true self. Let's see what that means according to the author.

Walking 'The Journey'

Written in free verse, a poem without regular meter or rhyme, Johnson writes in one long stanza (similar to a paragraph), which helps readers to envision the continuous journey of the speaker.

The poem opens with the narrator telling us that there comes a day when you realize what you need to do and you set out to do it, regardless of the voices around you telling you otherwise. In fact, the author says that those other voices keep shouting ''bad advice.'' And, even though you know what you need to do, the pull of the old things and your old world keep tugging at your ankles.

Each voice shouting is vying for your attention, but you cast them aside because you are firm enough in your resolve to do what must be done. Even the very wind ''pried with its stiff fingers'' at your very foundations, sad because of the new life and decisions you are starting to make.

The subject of the poem is at a crossroads now. It's late and the road is ''full of fallen branches and stones.'' It would be easy to turn around and go back, but each little step forward makes the stars burn brighter and the clouds part.

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