In Mary Oliver's "The Summer Day," Oliver expresses her confusion, wonder and amazement for the natural world to express her understanding of identifying one's purpose in life. Oliver starts off with broad questions such as "Who made the world?" and "Who made the animals in the world?" This is Oliver's attempt at trying to grasp an understanding of creation. Oliver makes it apparent that she has no religious ties, because she has no prescribed answers to these questions. Her questions about the natural world narrow to a grasshopper, and how it lives and functions. The poem then continues on to Oliver's confusion of her part in the world, and then finishes with the speaker asking deep questions about life. These questions address life and death, but particularly what one should do with the life one is given.
In lines 1 through 3, Oliver employs anaphora, repeating the words, "Who made?" in a prosaic style, as a search for answers. This repetition not only helps create rhythm, but also helps emphasize the wonder and mystery suggested by these questions, all connecting to the underlying theme of the question: who created us and why are we here? When Oliver starts describing the grasshopper, a minute aspect of creation that she can empathize with, she uses clearly defined diction in paradox Oliver sees a picture of her "wild and precious life" in the ordinary doings of this sugar-happy insect, known more for its wanton destructiveness than its bliss. But that paradox also powers Oliver's assertion of the importance of apparent "idleness" to our need to find or construct a meaningful life.
Oliver concludes the poem with the lines, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" This is the only "you" she uses throughout the poem, indicating a move from an author who portrays a message, to an author interested in engaging in relationship.