Today I heard an amazing 2015 interview/conversation with Mary Oliver conducted by Krista Tippett.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you about mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--- over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
by Mary Oliver
Now I see it–
it nudges with its bulldog head
the slippery stems of the lilies, making them tremble
and now it noses along in the wake of the little brown teal
who is leading her soft children
from one side of the pond to the other; she keeps
close to the edge
and they follow closely, the good children–
the tender children,
the sweet children, dangling their pretty feet
into the darkness.
And now will come–I can count on it–the murky splash
the certain victory
of that pink and gassy mouth, and the frantic
circling of the hen while the rest of the chicks
flare away over the water and into the reeds, and my heart
will be most mournful
on their account. But, listen,
except that the great and cruel mystery of the world,
of which this is a part,
not be denied. Once,
I happened to see, on a city street, in summer,
a dusty, fouled turtle plodding along–
broken out I suppose from some backyard cage–
and I knew what I had to do–
I looked it right in the eyes, and I caught it–
I put it, like a small mountain range,
into a knapsack, and I took it out
of the city, and I let it
down into the dark pond, into
the cool water,
and the light of the lilies,
by Mary Oliver
The bear who shuffles over the hillsides filling himself with berries until his tongue is purple (which, remember, is a royal color)-- the bear who circles the cabin, who will not steal the honey, who will not rifle the knapsack of the sleeping camper-- the one who sits by himself by the river, who sings to himself the secret song no one has ever heard-- the bear who yawns with the cavernous mouth of a shaggy god-- who, when he sees me is solidly silent and rises on the mass of his legs, disdainful and free as anything on earth could ever be-- this is the bear I want to see.
Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last! What a task to ask of anything, or anyone, yet it is ours, and not by the century or the year, but by the hours. One fall day I heard above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was a flock of snow geese, winging it faster than the ones we usually see, and, being the color of snow, catching the sun so they were, in part at least, golden. I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us as with a match which is lit, and bright, but does not hurt in the common way, but delightfully, as if delight were the most serious thing you ever felt. The geese flew on. I have never seen them again, Maybe I will, someday, somewhere. Maybe I won't. It doesn't matter. What matters is that, when I saw them, I saw them as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.
Today I saw the flowering parts of a Black Locust tree, which I think Mary Oliver described in a poem she called “Honey Locust”. Poetic license?
The darkest thing
met me in the dark.
It was only a face
and a brace of teeth
that held no words,
though I felt a salty breath
sighing in my direction.
Once, in an autumn that is long gone,
I was down on my knees
in the cranberry bog
and heard, in that lonely place,
two voices coming down the hill,
and I was thrilled
to be granted this secret,
that the coyotes, walking together
can talk together,
for I thought, what else could it be?
And even though what emerged
were two young women, two-legged for sure
and not at all aware of me,
their nimble, young women tongues
telling and answering,
and though I knew
I had believed something probably not true,
yet it was wonderful
to have believed it.
And it has stayed with me
as a present once given is forever given.
Easy and happy they sounded,
those two maidens of the wilderness
from which we have–
who knows to what furious, pitiful extent–
From the book The Truro Bear and Other Adventures
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 not 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.
From the book Thirst
When I receive updates from the Writers Almanac, I read the poem first, before looking at the author’s name. I read through this little poem and immediately loved it. I then looked to see who the author was. Duh!.. ha, of course it was Mary Oliver!
I had a dog who loved flowers. Briskly she went through the fields, yet paused for the honeysuckle or the rose, her dark head and her wet nose touching the face of every one with its petals of silk, with its fragrance rising into the air where the bees, their bodies heavy with pollen, hovered— and easily she adored every blossom, not in the serious, careful way that we choose this blossom or that blossom— the way we praise or don't praise— the way we love or don't love— but the way we long to be— that happy in the heaven of earth— that wild, that loving.
Last night I had in my hand what I thought was a book of poetry by Stanley Kunitz. As I read the poem I was gratified that I had finally found another poem, besides “Layers” and “The Snakes of September” by Kunitz, that resonated for me. As I closed the book to look for a post-it strip to mark the poem with, I realized that I had actually grabbed a Mary Oliver book. Poor Stanley. At least I reached for you. At least I tried. You’re still revered and your book, Passing Through, is still the National Book Award Winner.
Meanwhile, here is Daisies by Mary Oliver
It is possible, I suppose, that sometime we will learn everything there is to learn: what the world is, for example, and what it means. I think this as I am crossing from one field to another, in summer, and the mockingbird is mocking me, as one who either knows enough already or knows enough to be perfectly content not knowing. Song being born of quest he knows this: he must turn silent were he suddenly assaulted with answers. Instead oh hear his wild, caustic, tender warbling ceaselessly unanswered. At my feet the white-petaled daisies display the small suns of their center-piece, their--if you don't mind my saying so--their hearts. Of course I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale and narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know. But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given, to see what is plain; what the sun lights up willingly; for example--I think this as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch-- the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the daisies for the field. (Mary Oliver)