Archive for the ‘Mary Oliver’ Category

Coming Home by Mary Oliver

July 15, 2022

This evocative poem by Mary Oliver took me on a journey. Its conclusion nostalgically, surprisingly, stirred me.

Coming Home

When we are driving in the dark,
on the long road
to Provincetown, which lies empty
for miles, when we’re weary,
when the buildings
and the scrub pines lose
their familiar look,
I imagine us rising
from the speeding car.
I imagine us seeing
everything from another place — the top
of one of the pale dunes,
or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea —
and what we see is a world
that cannot cherish us,
but which we cherish,
and what we see is our life
moving like that,
along the dark edges
of everything — the headlights
like lanterns
sweeping the blackness —
believing in a thousand
fragile and unprovable things,
looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping
barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.

Published in Dreamwork (1986) and Devotions (2017)

Read about Mary Oliver (1935-2019) and her astonishing poetry in this memorial acknowledgment to her poetic legacy. It contains links to articles, interviews, and poetry readings, as well as many of her favorite poems I’ve loved and posted over the years.

Mary Oliver reads a lovely poem about her dog

September 14, 2021

Renowned poet Mary Oliver reads “Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night” from her collection of new and favorite poems, Dog Songs, celebrating the dogs that have enriched her world.

Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night

He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

“Tell me you love me,” he says.

“Tell me again.”

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

Here are two other dog poems by Mary Oliver posted on Words for the Year: The Sweetness of Dogs and I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life.

Read about Mary Oliver (1935-2019) and her astonishing poetry in this memorial acknowledgment to her poetic legacy. It contains links to articles, interviews, and poetry readings, as well as many of her favorite poems I’ve loved and posted over the years.

Being in Nature—a gift from a tree

December 6, 2020

We often hear about the the benefits of being in nature. I remembered an experience I had with a tree when I went for a winter walk with a friend on the University Endowment Lands in Vancouver during the mid-1990s. I’ve now updated that blog post with what had happened and how a poem came to be written around 25 years ago. The post contains links to other poems written about trees, and advice from Mary Oliver.

The Uncarved Blog

We often hear about the the benefits of being in nature. I remembered an experience I had with a tree when I went for a winter walk with a friend on the University Endowment Lands in Vancouver during the mid-1990s.

I stopped in front of a particular tree to admire its intricate bark structure up close. I felt a ray of loving attention come from the tree into my heart-mind with these words: “the realness of natural things, the nearness of you.” It was an unexpected intimate experience and I quickly wrote the words down for further exploration. The next morning, I rewrote them as a two-line stanza, and then sequential stanzas naturally unfolded sharing its wisdom. It was as if I had been given a creative seed and it sprouted into a poem.

This gift from the tree was much appreciated. The experience reiterated what Mary Oliver described in…

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Mary Oliver is the Messenger for Thanksgiving

November 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our American friends, and to everyone of us who are thankful for life and staying healthy.

The Uncarved Blog

Mary Oliver’s poem, Messenger, was written in her own unique voice, but it must have been influenced by her favorite American poet, Walt Whitman. It’s a perfect poem to share for Thanksgiving, since her poetry is a thanksgiving for being alive in the world, appreciating every living thing in it, and singing their praises. “My work is loving the world…mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…which is mostly rejoicing…which is gratitude…a mouth with which to give shouts of joy.”

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
 
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
 
which is mostly standing still and learning…

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Mary Oliver is the Messenger for Thanksgiving

November 28, 2019

Mary Oliver’s poem, Messenger, was written in her own unique voice, but it must have been influenced by her favorite American poet, Walt Whitman. It’s a perfect poem to share for Thanksgiving, since her poetry is a thanksgiving for being alive in the world, appreciating every living thing in it, and singing their praises. “My work is loving the world…mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…which is mostly rejoicing…which is gratitude…a mouth with which to give shouts of joy.”

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
 
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
 
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
 
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

You can read more about Mary Oliver and her astonishing poetry in this memorial acknowledgment of her poetic legacy to us.

Here is an added footnote: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

I remember Maharishi telling us whatever we put our attention on will grow stronger in our life. The cornerstone to Mary Oliver’s appreciation of and love for the natural world around her was the power of her attention. She was awake to everything and was always astonished. Her sustained empathic attention to the land and its inhabitants inspired devotional poetry. In this interview, On Being’s Krista Tippett asks Mary Oliver about the role of attention in her work.

Ms. Tippett: I’d like to talk about attention, which is another real theme that runs through your work, both the word and the practice. I know people associate you with that word. But I was interested to read that you began to learn that attention without feeling is only a report. That there is more to attention than for it to matter in the way you want it to matter. Say something about that learning.

Ms. Oliver: You need empathy with it rather than just reporting. Reporting is for field guides. And they’re great. They’re helpful. But that’s what they are. They’re not thought provokers. They don’t go anywhere. And I say somewhere that attention is the beginning of devotion, which I do believe. But that’s it. A lot of these things are said but can’t be explained.

You can listen to and read a transcript of the whole interview.

Mary Oliver’s essential message for living a full life

Mary Oliver said: “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” She elaborated it in this 3-line poem, Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it. And did she ever! It’s how she lived her life, and told us all about it in the gift of her amazing poetry.

Also relevant: Mary Oliver’s poem, Praying, is a lesson on attention, receptivity, listening and writing.

In her poem, Mockingbirds, Mary Oliver teaches us how to listen, and be transformed by wonder

October 22, 2019

Our attention is the greatest gift we can give to someone, or something. It can transform our world. Mary Oliver’s poem, Mockingbirds, teaches us how to listen, and experience the wonders around us.

Mockingbirds

by Mary Oliver

This morning
two mockingbirds
in the green field
were spinning and tossing

the white ribbons
of their songs
into the air.
I had nothing

better to do
than listen.
I mean this
seriously.

In Greece,
a long time ago,
an old couple
opened their door

to two strangers
who were,
it soon appeared,
not men at all,

but gods.
It is my favorite story–
how the old couple
had almost nothing to give

but their willingness
to be attentive–
but for this alone
the gods loved them

and blessed them–
when they rose
out of their mortal bodies,
like a million particles of water

from a fountain,
the light
swept into all the corners
of the cottage,

and the old couple,
shaken with understanding,
bowed down–
but still they asked for nothing

but the difficult life
which they had already.
And the gods smiled, as they vanished,
clapping their great wings.

Wherever it was
I was supposed to be
this morning–
whatever it was I said

I would be doing–
I was standing
at the edge of the field–
I was hurrying

through my own soul,
opening its dark doors–
I was leaning out;
I was listening.

###

Mary Oliver left us at the beginning of this year. To learn more about this amazed poet and her amazing poetry, see: RIP: Mary Oliver. Thank you for sharing your poetic gifts with us. They are a national treasure!

Mary Oliver advises us to open up to joy and not hesitate if we suddenly and unexpectedly feel it

March 13, 2019

                    DON’T HESITATE

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

— Mary Oliver, Evidence (2009), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

The nurturing effect of rainwater in Mary Oliver’s poems Lingering In Happiness At Blackwater Pond

March 13, 2019

These two poems by Mary Oliver describe the nurturing effect of rainwater in nature deep within the body of the earth and inside her own.

LINGERING IN HAPPINESS

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground

where it will disappear—but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;

and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.

— Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early (2004), Devotions (2017)

AT BLACKWATER POND

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have settled
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

— Mary Oliver, At Blackwater Pond (2006), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

Both of these poems remind me of this short poem by William Stafford.

B.C.

The seed that met water spoke a little name.

(Great sunflowers were lording the air that day;
this was before Jesus, before Rome; that other air
was readying our hundreds of years to say things
that rain has beat down on over broken stones
and heaped behind us in many slag lands.)

Quiet in the earth a drop of water came,
and the little seed spoke: “Sequoia is my name.”

A keen, patient observer of nature, Mary Oliver’s poetry shone a light on the creatures around her

March 13, 2019

I long to be the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

From a young age, Mary Oliver loved the great poets—Wordsworth, Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau. They were her companions. She was destined to become a great poet herself.

To commune with the muse is every poet’s wish, and she succeeded. A keen, patient observer of nature, Oliver honored the creatures around her through her poetry. To do them justice she always strove to be an “empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.”

Go easy, be filled with light, and shine.

Nature was her teacher. When she was among the trees, she felt uplifted by them. “I would almost say that they save me, and daily.” Sometimes sensing her low self-esteem, they would tell her to “Stay awhile.” She would see the light flowing from their branches.

They would remind her, “It’s simple,” and encourage her, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.” And she did! These two poems track part of her journey.

BLUE IRIS

Now that I’m free to be myself, who am I?
Can’t fly, can’t run, and see how slowly I walk.
Well, I think, I can read books.

……………“What’s that you’re doing?”
the green-headed fly shouts as it buzzes past.

I close the book.

Well, I can write down words, like these, softly.

“What’s that you’re doing?” whispers the wind, pausing
in a heap just outside the window.

Give me a little time, I say back to its staring, silver face.
It doesn’t happen all of a sudden, you know.

“Doesn’t it?” says the wind, and breaks open, releasing
distillation of blue iris.

And my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

— Mary Oliver, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays (2006), Devotions (2017)

WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
…..but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

— Mary Oliver, Thirst (2006), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.

Mary Oliver’s poem, The Loon, may leave you suspended, like the poet in the early morning

March 8, 2019

To get a feeling for what Mary Oliver heard and how it affected her, listen to this video, Voices: Common Loon, before reading her poem, The Loon.

                                   THE LOON

Not quite four a.m., when the rapture of being alive
strikes me from sleep, and I rise
from the comfortable bed and go
to another room, where my books are lined up
in their neat and colorful rows. How

magical they are! I choose one
and open it. Soon
I have wandered in over the waves of the words
to the temple of thought.

…………………………………And then I hear
outside, over the actual waves, the small,
perfect voice of the loon. He is also awake,
and with his heavy head uplifted he calls out
to the fading moon, to the pink flush
swelling in the east that, soon,
will become the long, reasonable day.

……………………………………………….Inside the house
it is still dark, except for the pool of lamplight
in which I am sitting.

……………………………I do not close the book.

Neither, for a long while, do I read on.

 

— Mary Oliver, What Do We Know (2002), Devotions (2017)

See this remembrance of Mary Oliver with links to more of her poems.


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