Mary Oliver – Goodbye to a beautiful voice!

Mary Oliver, my beautiful companion, who opened my eyes to poetry, and wonder, and creation has died. My heart feels sad that I have to say goodbye to this wonderful woman, yet, I will in some ways never say goodbye. For the poetry she wrote, beautiful, glorious poetry, with a depth and perception that spoke to anyone who found it, lives on. In all the books that hold her poems, and in all the people who will continue to read and be inspired by them. I for one will never let the simple pleasure of a Mary Oliver poem be lost.

Here are just a couple of my favourites, but this is just the start!

“In Blackwater Woods”.

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.

Every year
everything
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

We are letting go of Mary Oliver the person, but never Mary Oliver, the poet.

And this one, called “In the Storm”, speaks to me about what in the end life is about. I have used it before, but maybe we need to read it again and again to let it sink in. Kindness, a little bit of kindness, isn’t that what we all want for each other.  

Some black ducks
were shrugged up
on the shore.
It was snowing

hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,

five inches long
with beaks like wire,
flew in,
snowflakes on their backs,

and settled
in a row
behind the ducks—
whose backs were also

covered with snow—
so close
they were all but touching,
they were all but under

the roof of the ducks’ tails,
so the wind, pretty much,
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless,

for maybe an hour,
then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away

out over the water,
which was still raging.
But, somehow,
they came back

and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
let them
stoop there, and live.

If someone you didn’t know
told you this,
as I am telling you this,
would you believe it?

Belief isn’t always easy.
But this much I have learned,
if not enough else—
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn’t a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness—

as now and again
some rare person has suggested—
is a miracle.
As surely it is

And finally, this one, which is long, but I love it because it talks about a God in all things, in creation, in the river, in the stones, in each one of us. Its called “At the River Clarion”.

I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.

And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.

I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.

If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck.
He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke.
Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.

Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing,
if you would pause to hear it.
And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing?

If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics.
He’s the forest, He’s the desert.
He’s the ice caps, that are dying.
He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts.

He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell.
He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons.
He’s every one of us, potentially.
The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet.
And if this is true, isn’t it something very important?

Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least
of his intention and his hope.
Which is a delight beyond measure.
I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea.
I only know that the river kept singing.
It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy
which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.

(there is more..)

Karen

2 responses to “Mary Oliver – Goodbye to a beautiful voice!”

  1. Julianne Hughes says :

    Oh Karen, my heart goes out to you! You introduced me to Mary Oliver’s wisdom, and I am so grateful to you for that. I find her words and ideas soothe my spirit. I even tried to memorise Wild Geese once… “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…” But my favourite, too, is At The River Clarion. I look forward to the “more” to come!

  2. Gail Cresswell says :

    So beautiful and so sad – thank you for your words that inspire me to think big thoughts and dream big technicolour dreams

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