I learned of Mary Oliver’s death yesterday while at my desk at work. NPR had shared the news. Tears streamed down my face. I had shared one of her poem’s on Monday, a poem that had so moved me that when I tried to ready it aloud, that by line five I had to wipe my eyes to see the page, and choke out the words. I knew Mary was in her 80’s, but I didn’t know she was taking her last breaths here on earth. She was a beautiful soul and poet who loved the natural world. She has written poems about trees, the sea, a pond, stones, the wind, ravens and crows, loons, sparrows, herons and even the clam. She lives on in her poetry. It feels like we get to keep a little bit of her soul.
The Summer Day
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 article that NPR shared can be found here. You might also enjoy reading this article also by NPR about her book called Upstream. This article about Mary’s elegy for her soulmate Molly Malone Cook was also very moving. Much has been written about Mary Oliver, which you can seek out and find easily enough, so I’ll keep it simple and share a few more poems.
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.
Look, it’s spring. And last year’s loose dust has turned
into this soft willingness. The wind-flowers have come
up trembling, slowly the brackens are up-lifting their
curvaceous and pale bodies. The thrushes have come
home, none less than filled with mystery, sorrow,
happiness, music, ambition.
And I am walking out into all of this with nowhere to
go and no task undertaken but to turn the pages of
this beautiful world over and over, in the world of my
* * *
Therefore, dark past,
I’m about to do it.
I’m about to forgive you
~ Mary Oliver
Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me
spoke to me
to come falling
out of the brisk cloud
to be happy again
in a new way
on the earth!
That’s what it said
as it dropped,
smelling of iron,
like a dream of the ocean
into the branches
and the grass below.
Then it was over.
The sky cleared.
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in they sky
that were also themselves
at the moment,
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
and the soft rain—
the long and wondrous journeys
still to be ours
~ Mary Oliver