Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better?

I wonder what poems Mary Oliver (1935-2019), in her infinite wisdom, would be writing right now if she hadn’t passed away last year. So much of her work has already brought me comfort and peace this spring.

song sparrow
Song Sparrow, Palo Alto Baylands Natural Preserve. Photo by my friend Jeff Schwegman

“I Worried”

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

Imagination is better than a sharp instrument.

Thank you, Mary Oliver (1935-2019), for your poetry that has accompanied me and countless others (and will continue to) throughout so much of life. I have read your words aloud at dinner tables and hospital beds, under my covers and on long meandering hikes, during moments of extreme joy and aching grief. Thank you for your imagination and your light and for reminding us to always pay attention during these wild and precious lives.

Readers, here are some of the Mary Oliver poems I’ve posted over the years, though I recommend you explore the vast collection of her incredible work. I’ll leave you this morning with one of the first poems of hers I ever loved and shared on this blog a decade ago.

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“Yes! No!”

How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.

I think there is no end or return

Let’s begin to wind down National Poetry Month with the beloved Mary Oliver (1935-) and her lyrical wisdom.

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“A Pretty Song”

 From the complications of loving you

I think there is no end or return.
No answer, no coming out of it.

Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
This isn’t a playground, this is
earth, our heaven, for a while.

Therefore I have given precedence
to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods
that hold you in the center of my world.

And I say to my body: grow thinner still.
And I say to my fingers, type me a pretty song,
And I say to my heart: rave on.