Posts Tagged ‘attention is the beginning of devotion’

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.


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