Anything can be a bird if you’re not careful. I should say something nice about the weather. I should be in awe of the living, but the world dulls when I step into it. The squirrels scatter, the branches lift. Sure, I’ve hurt the ones I’ve loved by not paying attention. Not alone — never alone is a lesson I need to understand. It was you who said that. It’s you still. You who says, Look! You who points to the sky. You who tilts my chin toward the heron, who cups the minnow in your hands, who spots the deer miles ahead, who dulls the world with your absence. You who says, Look! & when I look, you are gone, replaced by the whitetail’s hind legs, fading into the bush.
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.
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.