Posts Tagged ‘Mary Oliver’

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.

When Death Comes – by Mary Oliver

 I was saddened to learn of the passing of Mary Oliver. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, her poetry touched the simplest things in life with wondrous placement of thoughts and words. She touched me with her poetry and I heard her “voice” so often in my wanderings, frequently placing her poems in tandem with my photos and with my feelings.

Rest in peace, Mary Oliver. You did much more that just visit this world.


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DSCN4730DSCN4735From Marilyn's peonyBev peony:3:one bud, one opening, one openedDSCN4738This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

from New And Selected Poems by Mary Oliver

I posted the first verse of this ethereal poem by Mary Oliver when my tree peonies first opened. I wanted to save the rest of the poem for when the herbaceous peonies came out to play – and they have, indeed. They have been frolicking in the front gardens, under the tree peonies, over the ferns, and atop all else that awaits blossoming, and, yes, dear reader, I did “hurry, half-dressed” in my pajamas, enjoying their “honeyed heaviness”  enjoying their perfect moments, for they shan’t last long, but, oh, while they are here – what joy they are to behold. 

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DSCN4611I wait for them to open up; first a tightly wound bud, then the petals pealing away like yarn from a skein, to reveal their true identity. If you have been reading about life on the Cutoff for a few years, you surely know how much I adore tree peonies. If you are new here, waiting for these beauties to open are among my most cherished rites of spring.

These light pink ones opened up yesterday. They were stubborn buds in the morning, but, by late afternoon, they bloomed, filling me with appreciation for their sunny disposition.

From Mary Oliver’s “New and Selected Poems” I found her poem, Peony. The opening lines are perfect.

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers



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The Winter Wood ArrivesDSCN3922

I think
I could have
built a little house
to live in

with the single cord—
half seasoned, half not—
trucked into the
driveway and

tumbled down. But, instead,
friends came
and together we stacked it
for the long, cold days

that are—
maybe the only sure thing in the world—
coming soon.
How to keep warm

is always a problem,
isn’t it?
Of course, there’s love.
And there’s prayer.

I don’t belittle them,
and they have warmed me,DSCN3936
but differently,
from the heart outwards.

what swirls of frost will cling
to the windows, what white lawns
I will look out on

as I rise from morning prayers,
as I remember love, that leaves yet never leaves,
as I go out into the yard
and bring the wood in

with struggling steps,
with struggling thoughts,
bundle by bundle,
to be burned.

by Mary Oliver, from “Thirst”

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. . .  one more poem from Mary Oliver, before we bid August adieu. 


When the blackberries hang

swollen in the wood, in the brambles

nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high branches, reaching

my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming

the black honey of summer

into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark

creeks that run by there is

this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is

this happy tongue.


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DSCN3049We had such a delicious rain yesterday. It started with thunder and lightning late the night before. The rafters creaked from the noise and the sky streaked with the illumination from the lightning. It was quite a show. Then, the rain carried on, like a weeping school girl whose boyfriend has just left for college.  By late afternoon yesterday, the clouds separated, the Cutoff wore the most enchanting shade of  green, and the sun shone through with all its glory.

DSCN3044When the rain stopped, I rambled about the garden, to see what I could see. My eyes wandered up to the deadened old apple tree, which insists, still, on bearing fruit.

Most of the apples clung to the branches, glistening in the late afternoon light, but, a few windfall apples appeared, like this one in the hollow of the tree. DSCN3068

Mary Oliver’s poem, John Chapman, came to mind from “American Primitive”.  John Chapman is known to most American schoolchildren, probably most adults as well, as Johnny Appleseed, a legend in is own time as he went about planting apple orchards across the East and as far west as Indiana and Illinois as a young country emerged. He lead a nomadic life., sleeping under the stars, or wherever he could find shelter, and wearing  a tin can for his hat, which doubled as a pot to cook his supper in. John Chapman didn’t actually toss apple seeds across the land. He planted apple trees, putting fences around them to protect them from predators, creating orchards. His legacy is the many descendant apple trees that dot the eastern part of the country, and, America’s love affair with the once forbidden fruit.

This is a portion of Ms. Oliver’s poem, John Chapman.

Well, the trees he planted or gave away
prospered, and he became
the good legend, you do
what you can if you can; whatever

the secret, and the pain,

there’s a decision: to die,
or to live, to go on
caring about something. In spring, in Ohio,
in the forests that are left you can still find
signs of him: patches
of cold white fire.


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Have you ever heard the soft flutter of the wings of geese?

I don’t mean the loud clatter that occurs when they honk and beep and jockey about for first position in their signature V. I mean the softest of sounds, like a breeze brushing your check on a warm day; when you sense before you see?

As I was taking this picture of Lake Katherine, I heard an almost imperceptible sound as the camera was adjusting its eye. Just then two Canadian geese flew but a few yards above my head. They made not a sound. No warning. Just the whisper of air between their feathers.

Back home, downloading (or is it uploading?) the sixty of so photos of a short walk around a lake, I zoomed in closer on the one above. I was trying to capture the reflections of the shoreline on the water. I discovered that I had inadvertently captured the pair of geese who brushed past me. There, in the photo, are not only the geese, but their reflections. If you click onto the picture above and pan to the right you can see them.

I remembered a poem by Mary Oliver, Wild Geese, and went about trying to find in online, which I did, with the bonus of her actually reading it. The poem didn’t quite fit the picture, however, so, I kept the photo in abeyance, letting it sit and steep like a cup of tea.

When you let something sit brewing, you often get just what you were waiting for. That happened this morning. I have bookmarked a nice little site with the imprint of Garrison Keillor, that all American master of words. I clicked on The Almanac this morning, and there appeared a poem I didn’t know existed,. It fluttered about me like the wings of the geese from a week ago, and it gave me the words to hang upon the swans that I saw yesterday.

Water Picture, by May Swenson

In the pond in the park
all things are doubled:
Long buildings hang and
wriggle gently. Chimneys
are bent legs bouncing
on clouds below. A flag
wags like a fishhook
down there in the sky.

The arched stone bridge
is an eye, with underlid
in the water. In its lens
dip crinkled heads with hats
that don’t fall off. Dogs go by,
barking on their backs.
A baby, taken to feed the
ducks, dangles upside-down,
a pink balloon for a buoy.

Treetops deploy a haze of
cherry bloom for roots,
where birds coast belly-up
in the glass bowl of a hill;
from its bottom a bunch
of peanut-munching children
is suspended by their
sneakers, waveringly.

A swan, with twin necks
forming the figure 3,
steers between two dimpled
towers doubled. Fondly
hissing, she kisses herself,
and all the scene is troubled:
water-windows splinter,
tree-limbs tangle, the bridge
folds like a fan.

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The screeching came this summer; mid afternoon ’round three o’clock. Neither of us could tell where it was coming from at first, nor what. I would hear it weeding and watering, especially out back, and Tom could hear it, even with windows closed, up in the barn where his office is.

I wandered back, deep into the yard,, inching my steps, watching, looking to the tree tops for a nest. Suddenly, a swoosh. A large, white underbelly showed; soaring, searching, screeching. My eyes followed it as it hunted, then swooped down, and vanished from view.

We have hawks and other large birds of prey here on the Cutoff and often see them. I’ve watched the red tailed hawks “dancing” in the sky in courtship . It is a sight to behold. They are most often seen atop a branch or pole, looking for prey. In the six years we have been here, however, I’ve never heard them as I’ve heard them this summer, come mid-afternoon, here on the Cutoff.

Image from National Geographic



This morning

the hawk

rose up

out of the meadow’s browse

and swung over the lake –

it settled

on the small black dome

of a dead pine,

alert as an admiral,

its profile

distinguished with sideburns

the color of smoke,

and I said: remember

this is not something

of the red fire, this is

heaven’s fistful

of death and destruction,

and the hawk hooked

one exquisite foot

onto a last twig

to look deeper

into the yellow reeds

along the edges of the water

and I said: remember

the tree, the cave,

the white lilly of resurrection,

and that’s when it simply lifted

its golden feet and floated

into the wind, belly-first,

and then it cruised along the lake –

all the time its eyes fastened

harder than love on some

uninimportant rustling in the

yellow reeds — and then it

seemed to crouch high in the air, and then it

turned into a white blade, which fell.

                                                                           From New and Selected Poems.

                                                          Mary Oliver

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The 2012 National Poetry Month poster, designed by Chin-Yee Lai.

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month?

For a month that begins with its first day a “fools” day, I thought I would instead give you a poem by Mary Oliver. I hope you enjoy it and that you find a few poems to read during the month of April.

I Want to Write Something So Simply

I want to write something

so simply

about love

or about pain

that even

as you are reading

you feel it

and as you read

you keep feeling it

and though it may be my story

it will be known to you

so that by the end

you will think –

no, you will realize –

that it was all the while

yourself arranging the words,

that it was all the time

words that you yourself,

out of your own heart

had been saying.

                              Mary Oliver, Evidence

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. . . where you are.

On my library visits, I have been making it a point to bring home a book or two of poetry. Poets I know and poets I don’t find their way into my arms as I attempt to broaden my poetic horizons. Most recently, New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver, has been sitting at my side. I bookmarked (with a real book mark) The Black Walnut Tree.  I’ve read this poem a few times over, thinking about our own trees here on the Cutoff and our walnut harvest last fall.

I was so sorry to hear through Nan’s blog, Letters from a Hill Farm, that Mary Oliver has cancelled all speaking engagements. She has taken ill.  As I thumbed through the book this morning, another poem presented itself to me. Poems have a way of doing that, don’t they? They sit and wait until just the right time to introduce themselves. I thought it might be fitting way to honor Mary Oliver by posting it today.

The picture is ours, one of hundreds taken at Walden Pond, but the message I hear from the poem is a simple one. As simple as the idea of Walden. It is wherever you are.

Going to Walden
Mary Oliver

It isn’t very far as highways lie.
I might be back by nightfall, having seen
The rough pines, and the stones, and the clear water
Friends argue that I might be wiser for it.
They do not hear that far-off Yankee whisper:
How dull we grow from hurrying here and there!

Many have gone, and think me half a fool
To miss a day away in the cool country.
Maybe.  But in a book I read and cherish,
Going to Walden is not so easy a thing
As a green visit.   It is the slow and difficult
Trick of living, and finding it where you are.

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