Tag Archives: Mary Oliver

Growing Darkness

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Wild + Precious

I just found out that the literary world is dismissive of the poet Mary Oliver, whom I love to pieces. I was thinking of the “sun swinging east” during these “days of growing darkness,” quoting “Lines Written During These Days of Growing Darkness.” Feeling as if I had elevated my experience of a bleak day. Feeling a bit smug to be thinking about poetry as I walked home from the train station as opposed to, say, about the wine I was going to drink when I got there. Turns out my poet of choice was deemed “the kind of old-fashioned poet who walks the woods most days, accompanied by dog and notepad,” per a profile in The New Yorker. The profile also tells me she was a Provincetown girl who wrote about the world but stuck close to home. When asked if she might like to travel she said yes, agreeably, then would “go off to my woods, my ponds, my sun-filled harbor, no more than a blue comma on the map of the world but, to me, the emblem of everything.”

And speaking of everything, take this you also-smug New Yorker profile writer: “There is only one question; / how to love this world,” from Oliver’s “Spring.”

I give you “Lines” which I recited, almost by heart, at the Bowery Poetry Project this past summer (a story for another time).

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing, as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

So let us go on, cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

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The reason why birds can fly

“Things!

Burn them, burn them!

Make a beautiful fire!

More room in your heart for love, for the trees!

For the birds who own nothing—the reason they can fly.” 

~ “Felicity,” Mary Oliver

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I read this while Oliver is leaving again. As is his pattern, home for Christmas and those first, dark months in January. And then, like a bird, he’s often again, carrying so little in exchange for doing so much.

 

 

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Tell me, what is it you plan to do

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with your one wild and precious life

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays. © Beacon Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission.

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