Posts Tagged ‘immortality’

RIP: Mary Oliver. Thank you for sharing your poetic gifts with us. They are a national treasure!

January 17, 2019

maybe death
isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light
wrapping itself around us–

From White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field by Mary Oliver

Jan 17, 2019: I received news this morning that Mary Oliver had passed. I was shocked. Strange how just two days ago I had posted and sent out one of her beautiful, wise poems, Sunrise.

Later tonight I checked and the internet was flooded with the news. A friend forwarded this email from Suzanne Lawlor: RIP Mary Oliver. I am very sorry to share this sad news about Mary Oliver, one of my favorite poets. This is what was sent out today:

Mary Oliver, beloved poet and bard of the natural world, died on January 17 at home in Hobe Sound, Florida. She was 83.

mary oliver photo

Poet Mary Oliver

Oliver published her first book, No Voyage, in London in 1963, at the age of twenty-eight. The author of more than 20 collections, she was cherished by readers, and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for American Primitive, and the 1992 National Book Award for New and Selected Poems, Volume One. She led workshops and held residencies at various colleges and universities, including Bennington College, where she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching until 2001. It was her work as an educator that encouraged her to write the guide to verse, A Poetry Handbook (1994), and she went on to publish many works of prose, including the New York Times bestselling essay collection, Upstream (2016). For her final work, Oliver created a personal lifetime collection, selecting poems from throughout her more than fifty-year career. Devotions was published by Penguin Press in 2017.

Her poetry developed in close communion with the landscapes she knew best, the rivers and creeks of her native Ohio, and, after 1964, the ponds, beech forests, and coastline of her chosen hometown, Provincetown. She spent her final years in Florida, a relocation that brought with it the appearance of mangroves. “I could not be a poet without the natural world,” she wrote. “Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” In the words of the late Lucille Clifton, “She uses the natural world to illuminate the whole world.”

In her attention to the smallest of creatures, and the most fleeting of moments, Oliver’s work reveals the human experience at its most expansive and eternal.

In her attention to the smallest of creatures, and the most fleeting of moments, Oliver’s work reveals the human experience at its most expansive and eternal. She lived poetry as a faith and her singular, clear-eyed understanding of verse’s vitality of purpose began in childhood, and continued all her life. “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

###

In this poem, When Death Comes, Mary Oliver, who was seriously ill at the time, seemed to be contemplating her own mortality. Her perspectives on life and time were changing: “and I look upon time as no more than an idea, / and I consider eternity as another possibility,”. This reminds me what Maharishi said on the subject: “Time is a conception to measure eternity.”

I’ve posted a few of her astonishing poems: The Journey, Wild Geese, The Swan, PrayingVaranasi, The Summer Day (aka “The Grasshopper”), At the Lake, One, White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The FieldSunrise, The Loon, Blue Iris, When I Am Among The Trees, Lingering In Happiness, At Blackwater Pond, Don’t Hesitate, Mockingbirds, Messenger, Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night, and When Death Comes, which was included here in her obituary posted on Jan 17, 2019.

On January 21, 2019, Here & Now‘s Robin Young talked with author Ruth Franklin about award-winning poet Mary Oliver’s legacy: Remembering The ‘Ecstatic Poet’ Mary Oliver, Who Wrote About The Natural World. Ruth wrote a profile of Oliver for The New Yorker in 2017. Robin plays an excerpt of Oliver being interviewed by Krista Tippett: On Being, Mary Oliver Listening To The World.

I transcribed part of their discussion in this footnote to her poem, Messenger, where she says that attention is the beginning of devotion.

On October 18, 2016, Fresh Air’s Maureen Coorigan gave a wonderful book review of the poet’s New York Times essay collection: Mary Oliver Issues A Full-Throated Spiritual Autobiography In ‘Upstream’.

Today, on the day of her passing, the 92nd Street Y posted their Oct 15, 2012 recording of Mary Oliver reading from her new poetry book, A Thousand Mornings, as well as some of her other well-known poems.

On January 22, 2019, The Paris Review published an In Memoriam from Billy Collins. He wrote about a time (“one evening in October 2012”) when he and Mary Oliver shared the stage for a poetry reading “at an immense performing arts center in Bethesda, Maryland.” What he remembers “best was the book signing that followed. … I couldn’t help noticing how emotional many of Mary’s readers became in her presence. They gushed about how much her poems meant to them, how her poems had comforted them in dire times, how they had been saved by her work.” Read When Mary Oliver Signed Books. His conclusion is revealing!

Quotefancy published TOP 20 Mary Oliver Quotes from her poems. Famous Poets and Poems lists 87 of Mary Oliver’s poems.

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.

Charles Bukowski sang the life victorious, thanks to his having learned Transcendental Meditation

August 17, 2014

I first posted this wonderful poem by Charles Bukowski in the summer of 2014 and later found out that he had learned Transcendental Meditation towards the end of his life. So I’ve updated it in early 2021 with three different sources behind this story.

a song with no end

when Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric”

I know what he
meant
I know what he
wanted:

to be completely alive every moment
in spite of the inevitable.

we can’t cheat death but we can make it
work so hard
that when it does take
us

it will have known a victory just as
perfect as
ours.

“a song with no end” by Charles Bukowski (1920-1994), from The Night Torn with Mad Footsteps. © Black Sparrow Press, 2001.

he apparently loved meditation

Towards the end of a Dec 31, 2006 New York Times article, David Lynch’s Shockingly Peaceful Inner Life, Alex Williams writes: The filmmaker sees no contradiction between inner harmony and external edginess. “I heard Charles Bukowski started meditation late in his life,” Mr. Lynch said, referring to the poet laureate of Skid Row, who died in 1994. “He was an angry, angry guy, but he apparently loved meditation.”

meditation allowed him to be creative in his later months

In this 89.3 KPCC interview Bukowski’s wife said that he lost some ground after being diagnosed with leukemia at age 73. He got it back with transcendental meditation. “It allowed him to open up a space within himself to say these words about himself dying,” said Linda Bukowski. “These later poems, death poems, are so acute and so awake and aware and I think that had a lot to do with how meditation allowed him to be creative in his later months and write these poems, that I still cannot read.”

I checked with a friend who has taught TM to many celebrities and she replied: “I instructed Charles (or Hank as he liked to be called) and his wife, Linda, a few years before he passed away. He was a lovely man at that time of his life. I wonder if he was meditating when he wrote this beautiful piece.”

That’s probably how David Lynch would have known since they’re longtime TM friends. She later emailed to say that she had taught Bukowski around 1992. So based on this information and what Linda had said, chances are this poem could have been written during those final years of his life while he was meditating regularly.

a related post

Cartoon wisdom from Karl Stevens appears in this week’s print edition of The New Yorker. Time Out Boston wrote on the back of his book, Failure, “Karl Stevens may be the closet thing to a Charles Bukowski equivalent working in comic art. Except Stevens is way classier….” When Stevens was working on Failure, “I was struggling with alcoholism which I think was where the comparison lies. I stopped drinking a couple months before beginning to learn TM. Obviously the practice was crucial to helping me focus on living a cleaner life.”


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