Mary Oliver

POETRY: Swan by Mary Oliver

April 1, 2018

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river? Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air— An armful of white blossoms, A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies, Biting the air with its black beak? Did you hear it, fluting and whistling A shrill dark music—like the rain pelting the trees—like a waterfall Knifing down the black ledges? And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds— A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river? And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything? And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for? And have [...]

POETRY: Morning Poem by Mary Oliver

April 1, 2018

Every morning the world is created. Under the orange sticks of the sun the heaped ashes of the night turn into leaves again and fasten themselves to the high branches— and the ponds appear like black cloth on which are painted islands of summer lilies. If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere. And if your spirit carries within it the thorn that is heavier than lead— if it’s all you can do to keep on trudging— there is still somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted— each pond with its blazing lilies is a prayer heard and answered lavishly, every morning, whether or not you have ever dared to be happy, [...]

POETRY: Lead by Mary Oliver

March 30, 2018

Here is a story to break your heart. Are you willing? This winter the loons came to our harbor and died, one by one, of nothing we could see. A friend told me of one on the shore that lifted its head and opened the elegant beak and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing, and for which, if you have not heard it, you had better hurry to where they still sing. And, believe me, tell no one just where that is. The next morning this loon, speckled and iridescent and with a plan to fly home to some hidden lake, was dead on the shore. I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the [...]

POETRY: Singapore by Mary Oliver

March 29, 2018

In Singapore, in the airport, a darkness was ripped from my eyes. In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open. A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl. Disgust argued in my stomach and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket. A poem should always have birds in it. Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings. Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees. A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling. A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem. When the woman turned I could not answer her face. Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win. She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this? Everybody needs a job. Yes, a person wants to stand in [...]

POETRY: The Poet Thinks Of The Donkey by Mary Oliver

March 25, 2018

On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited. How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight. But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount. Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient. I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, [...]

POETRY: Mindful by Mary Oliver

March 21, 2018

Everyday I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for— to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world— to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation. Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant— but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these— the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of [...]

POETRY: Some Questions You Might Ask by Mary Oliver

March 14, 2018

Is the soul solid, like iron? Or is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl? Who has it, and who doesn’t? I keep looking around me. The face of the moose is as sad as the face of Jesus. The swan opens her white wings slowly. In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness. One question leads to another. Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg? Like the eye of a hummingbird? Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop? Why should I have it, and not the anteater who loves her children? Why should I have it, and not the camel? Come to think of it, what about the maple trees? What about the blue iris? What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight? What about roses, [...]

POETRY: Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End? by Mary Oliver

March 7, 2018

There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long. The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God. And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier. The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily, out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing from the unreachable top of the tree. I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open. And thinking: maybe something will come, some shining coil of wind, or a few leaves from any old tree– they are all in this too. And now I will tell you the truth. Everything in the world comes. At least, closer. And, cordially. Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed [...]

POETRY: In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

February 28, 2018

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 [...]

POETRY: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

February 21, 2018

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 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 [...]

POETRY: Thirst by Mary Oliver

November 22, 2017

Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly [...]

POETRY: Nothing Is Too Small Not To Be Wondered About, by Mary Oliver

May 20, 2017

The cricket doesn’t wonder if there’s a heaven or, if there is, if there’s room for him. It’s fall. Romance is over. Still, he sings. If he can, he enters a house through the tiniest crack under the door. Then the house grows colder. He sings slower and slower. Then, nothing. This must mean something, I don’t know what. But certainly it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been an excellent cricket all his [...]

POETRY: How The Grass And The Flowers Came To Exist, A God-Tale, by Mary Oliver

May 14, 2017

I suppose the Lord said: Let there be fur upon the earth, and let there be hair upon the earth, and so the seeds stuttered forward into ripeness and the roots twirled in the dark to accomplish His desire, and so there is clover, and the reeds of the marshes, and the eelgrass of the sea shallows upon which the dainty sea brant live, and there is the green and sturdy grass, and the goldenrod and the spurge and the yarrow and the ivies and the bramble and the blue iris covering the earth, thanking the Lord with their [...]

POETRY: About Angels And About Trees by Mary Oliver

May 3, 2017

Where do angels fly in the firmament, and how many can dance on the head of a pin? Well, I don’t care about that pin dance, what I know is that they rest, sometimes, in the tops of the trees and you can see them, or almost see them, or, anyway, think: what a wonderful idea. I have lost as you and others have possibly lost a beloved one, and wonder, where are they now? The trees, anyway, are miraculous, full of angels (ideas); even empty they are a good place to look, to put the heart at rest—all those leaves breathing the air, so peaceful and diligent, and certainly ready to be the resting place of strange, winged creatures that we, in this world, have [...]

POETRY: Making The House Ready For The Lord, by Mary Oliver

April 22, 2017

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but still nothing is as shining as it should be for you. Under the sink, for example, is an uproar of mice—it is the season of their many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves and through the walls the squirrels have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow; what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox, the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know that really I am [...]

POETRY: The Beautiful, Striped Sparrow by Mary Oliver

February 27, 2017

In the afternoons, in the almost empty fields, I hum the hymns I used to sing in church. They could not tame me, so they would not keep me, alas, and how that feels, the weight of it, I will not tell any of you, not ever. Still, as they promised, God, once he is in your heart, is everywhere— so even here among the weeds and the brisk trees. How long does it take to hum a hymn? Strolling one or two acres of the sweetness or the world, not counting a lapse, now and again, of sheer emptiness. Once a deer stood quietly at my side. And sometimes the wind has touched my cheek like a spirit. Am I lonely? The beautiful, striped sparrow, serenely, on the tallest weed in his kingdom, also sings without [...]

POETRY: Maker Of All Things, Even Healings, by Mary Oliver

December 14, 2016

All night under the pines the fox moves through the darkness with a mouthful of teeth and a reputation for death which it deserves. In the spicy villages of the mice he is famous, his nose in the grass is like an earthquake, his feet on the path is a message so absolute that the mouse, hearing it, makes himself as small as he can as he sits silent or, trembling, goes on hunting among the grasses for the ripe seeds. Maker of All Things including appetite, including stealth, including the fear that makes all of us, sometimes or other, flee for the sake of our small and precious lives, let me abide in your shadow— let me hold on to the edge of your robe as you determine what you must let be lost and what will be saved. [...]

POETRY: Love Sorrow, by Mary Oliver

November 9, 2016

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must take care of what has been given. Brush her hair, help her into her little coat, hold her hand, especially when crossing a street. For, think, what if you should lose her? Then you would be sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness would be yours. Take care, touch her forehead that she feel herself not so utterly alone. And smile, that she does not altogether forget the world before the lesson. Have patience in abundance. And do not ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment by herself, which is to say, possibly, again, abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult, sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child. And amazing things can happen. And you may see, as the two of you go [...]

POETRY: White Owl Flies Into And Out Of The Field by Mary Oliver

August 13, 2016

Coming down out of the freezing sky with its depths of light, like an angel, or a Buddha with wings, it was beautiful, and accurate, striking the snow and whatever was there with a force that left the imprint of the tips of its wings—five feet apart— and the grabbing thrust of its feet, and the indentation of what had been running through the white valleys of the snow— and then it rose, gracefully, and flew back to the frozen marshes to lurk there, like a little lighthouse, in the blue shadows— so I thought: maybe death isn’t darkness, after all, but so much light wrapping itself around us— as soft as feathers— that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking, and shut our eyes, not without amazement, and let ourselves be [...]

POETRY: Praying by Mary Oliver

June 10, 2016

It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak. [...]

POETRY: Gethsemane by Mary Oliver

March 21, 2015

The grass never sleeps. Or the rose. Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning. Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept. The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet, and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body, and heaven knows if it even sleeps. Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move, maybe the lake far away, where once he walked as on a blue pavement, lay still and waited, wild awake. Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not keep that vigil, how they must have wept, so utterly human, knowing this too must be a part of the story. [...]

POETRY: The Journey, by Mary Oliver

November 12, 2014

One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice— thought the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. “Mend my life!” each voice cried. But you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations— though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice, which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the [...]

POETRY: The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

September 3, 2014

Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made this grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean— the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down— who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t [...]

POETRY: At Twilight An Angel, by Mary Oliver

December 17, 2013

At twilight an angel was standing in the garden. It is true, the wings are very beautiful. Even more spectacular, in a quieter way, is the light that shines out of the angel’s body. Not the cold light of the glow worm, but the softer light of a candle, or more exactly the light of a candle as it is seen through a window and, therefore, is not only itself but the light and a kind of veil together, which in fact does not double the mystery but multiplies it. The angel was looking into the trees, but mostly it was just standing there. In a strange and inexplicable way, it seemed as familiar to me as the trees themselves. I was glad it was there, but didn’t expect more – I mean I didn’t expect the angel to stir from its [...]

POETRY: Gratitude, by Mary Oliver

November 27, 2013

What did you notice? The dew-snail; the low-flying sparrow; the bat, on the wind, in the dark; big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance; the soft toad, patient in the hot sand; the sweet-hungry ants; the uproar of mice in the empty house; the tin music of the cricket’s body; the blouse of the goldenrod. What did you hear? The thrush greeting the morning; the little bluebirds in their hot box; the salty talk of the wren, then the deep cup of the hour of silence. When did you admire? The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit; the carrot, rising in its elongated waist; the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the pale green wand; at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid beauty of the flowers; then [...]

PRAYER: Prayers For The Healing Of The Earth

June 24, 2013

U. N. Environmental Sabbath Program We join with the Earth and with each other. To bring new life to the land To restore the waters To refresh the air We join with the earth and with each other. To renew the forests To care for the plants To protect the creatures We join with the Earth and with each other. To celebrate the seas To rejoice in the sunlight To sing the song of the stars We join with the Earth and with each other. To recreate the human community To promote justice and peace To remember our children We join with the Earth and with each other. We join together as many and diverse expressions of one loving mystery: for the healing of the Earth and the renewal of all life. Nancy Wood My help is in the mountain Where I take [...]

POETRY: Have You Ever Tried To Enter The Long Black Branches?, by Mary Oliver

January 22, 2013

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives— tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like? Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you? Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides with perfect courtesy, to let you in! Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass! Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart! No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life! Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch? Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive [...]

POETRY: At the River Clarion, by Mary Oliver

June 27, 2012

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 [...]

POETRY: Three Lenten Poems

March 14, 2012

Christ as a Gardener The boxwoods planted in the park spell LIVE. I never noticed it until they died. Before, the entwined green had smudged the word unreadable. And when they take their own advice again — come spring, come Easter — no one will know a word is buried in the leaves. I love the way that Mary thought her resurrected Lord a gardener. It wasn’t just the broad-brimmed hat and muddy robe that fooled her: he was that changed. He looks across the unturned field, the riot Of unscythed grass, the smattering of wildflowers. Before he can stop himself, he’s on his knees. He roots up stubborn weeds, pinches the suckers, deciding order here — what lives, what dies, and how. But it goes deeper even than that. His hands burn and [...]