Solar Power, Mary Oliver, and

Bliss Beyond Ignorance


Words: Georgia Turman
October 30, 2022

The first time I listened to “Solar Power,” I felt distinctly angry. It was such a departure from the Lorde music I had known and longed for that I felt as if something had been stolen from me, as if I had been the butt of some kind of practical joke.





Lorde rose to pop stardom as a teenager with the hit song “Royals,” which challenged conventional notions of what a pop song could be. With Pure Heroine and Melodrama, she built a reputation for moody music rife with both angst and wit.

When she went nearly off the grid following the Melodrama World Tour, I (and her millions of other fans) began to hunger for new music—for the dark comfort we had found within Heroine and Melodrama—and were elated to hear of a new album in the works. With “Solar Power,” I wondered why she would create something so superficial? It seemed, to me, like music made merely for the summer, with little else in mind. I listened to “Stoned at the Nail Salon” and found myself scoffing and turning it off.

I largely abandoned the album for the rest of the summer, as well as for the fall that followed, but in the early days of January, Solar Power made its way back to me.

I’d been having a very difficult winter, spending a lot of time hunched over with a hurting heart, feeling sad and burnt out. I spent my days listening to the haunted whine of an Adrienne Lenker album on loop, and swimming in the wail of Frankie Cosmos’ somewhat perverted mantra:


Winter’s gonna be long
I can feel it as I write this one

-   “Limb”

But as I began to recover and heal, I set my sights on better days and warmer months, Solar Power guiding me with a newfound meaning. Yes, Lorde was singing about the good times of summer, but she was posing them in contrast to the heavier, enveloping feelings she wrote into her earlier albums. Pure Heroine, her first album, centers the angst and anxiety of youth that she was experiencing. Melodrama, her sophomore album, sees her caught up in the party scene in the wake of immense heartbreak. On Solar Power, Lorde explains that she has seen darkness, grown from it, and tried to move beyond it. This, to me, justified the golden imagery and bright acoustic glory that I previously brushed off as perfunctory.

Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese,” in my eyes, corroborates the point of Solar Power. Like Lorde, Oliver has a reverence for the natural world that guides her in thinking about the larger questions of her life—love, loss, pain, grief—with a resigned and understated sort of optimism. Her work has, at times, been accused of being vapid and lacking substance, but I believe that, like this album, there is more than meets the eye.



You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Between the closing lyrics of the opening track, the first introduction to Robyn’s monologue, and lines from the last song, “Wild Geese” embodies something so similar to the traipsing bliss present in Solar Power.

I just hope the sun will show us the path
-   “The Path”

Welcome to sadness
The temperature is unbearable until you face it
-   “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)”


Sliding the knife under the skin
Grateful for this offering
And all the living things under the sun
-   “Oceanic Feeling

Oliver developed her love of nature through great suffering. She was sexually abused as a child, and came to the natural world as a kind of escape. In an interview with Krista Tippett for the podcast On Being, she confesses: “To this day, I don’t care for the enclosure of buildings. It was a very bad childhood ... and I escaped it, barely, with years of trouble … I got saved by the beauty of the world.”

It would be incorrect to equate these two artists, in terms of their work or their experiences, though I believe they have a philosophical approach in common: that getting in touch with the beauty, simplicity, and cyclicality of life through experiences in nature is important in the healing of each individual. Their works show how joy can be vast, how it can acknowledge and even encompass sadness. They speak of a kind of bliss, borne not of ignorance but of the acknowledgement of pain without fear.

Solar Power is undeniably a summer album, but it’s not just a summer album. The season of summer is not eternal, nor does it exist in a vacuum; it is entered into after the pain and cold of winter. Summer is a re-kindling, a re-juvenating. At its best, the album conveys this. It is not careless, or even carefree. Lorde is not pretending to be happy to play a practical joke on us; she is happy. It is a happiness that has known sadness, a summer that has known winter—a happiness that is vast, deep, and wise, as demonstrated by Roque Dalton’s “Like You.”

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
love,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.

If there is a “poetry of everyone,” for Lorde, it is the sun.







 

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