Reflections on Mary Oliver

Today is a sad day, Mary Oliver has died. I only recently discovered her poetry in the past couple of years, I admired the way she could evoke a feeling in the way she used words. For her poetry was in everything, even in the smallest of creatures she could see a poem. I am not even a blip on the screen of poetry writing compared to Mary Oliver, my poems struggle to break free from the confines of my heart and to see the light of day. I try, I really try, to write something, anything that tells the truth of what I see and feel. Mary’s poetry, did just that, when I read one of her poems I cannot help but get a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. Maybe because whatever I write cannot hold a candle up to what she has said and done. I know that I shouldn’t compare myself to her, after all, she was a poet long before I even knew what poetry was all about, but when you’ve sat at the feet of greatness and tried with everything you had to learn and absorb, you soon discover that isn’t enough. To write a poem is to enter into the world at a slant, to see in even the smallest grain of sand on a wide beach, a poem. That single blade of grass, that defies the concrete and darkness imposed upon it, breaks forth through even the tiniest crack to stretch itself out to the sun. No matter what happens, no matter how often it is cut back, poisoned, or pulled, it still somehow, defies all of those efforts and breaks through the layers of earth and concrete, as if to say to the world, “Here I am, here I will show the world that life is the final answer, not death”. That is the poets world, their vocation, to show the world that whatever darkness there is that seeks to bury the poetry, it still springs anew in the hearts of those who are broken. Our world, our society, our families, we need the poets, all of the poets, even those of us who struggle with our own poetry. Mary Oliver gave me hope, even in my darkest of days when I couldn’t even find that crack in the pavement, her words were my light and my life. Like her, I don’t simply want to end up just having visited this world, I want to end up having lived and experienced this world. I want to have seen the great oak as it bends in the summer breeze, and watch the flight of geese in perfect order, fly to the horizon, to know that even I, a small grain of sand on a long stretch of beach, am able to find the words to write and the poem to sing

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Mary Oliver’s Instructions

Mary Oliver writes, 

Instructions for living a life.

First, pay attention

oh how I try

each day to pay attention

to listen for even the least

to see beyond the words

to peer into the deep.

Oh, God how I try,

yet my human frailty

like Peter, James and John

fail me when I need it most.

Oh, I am astonished

astonished flowers bloom

after burial under snow

astonished by new birth

by the sounds of the birds

the rising of the sun

blood red in the eastern sky

the daily turning of life

the love I receive

even when I’m not lovable.

Yes, I’m astonished

that my life is so full

of that which God provides.

Oh how I want to tell

to shout out to all

about this amazing world

the music in the air

the brightness of love

the color of the forest

as the leaves once green

turn into a blaze of reds

setting the world on fire

the fire of the Spirit

that baptizes us with 

the water of God’s tears

weeping for humanity’s folly

hanging from the cross.