(photo from Onbeing.org)
We lost a great American legend this week. Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winning Poet died Thursday at age 83.
Mary Oliver made poetry accessible. She opened up the world of poetry to many of us by writing with exquisitely descriptive language about nature and life. She wrote in ways that make sense, touch hearts and ignite the imagination. Her work was both simple and mystical. Reading her poems you feel that you are right there with her on her walks through the woods and you experience, as she did so profoundly, the sanctity of this earth. And as she muses about life in her writing, as the reader it is as if you are having an intimate conversation with a very wise friend.
One of her very famous lines: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” is from her poem, A Summer Day. It is a study in mindfulness and a challenge to every reader to awaken to the preciousness of life and the need for intentionality in our endeavor to achieve a fully lived life.
A Summer Day
“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 everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Her Instructions for living:
1. Pay attention.
2. Be astonished.
3. Tell about it.
She did many readings but rarely any interviews. Krista Tippett, on the podcast OnBeing was able to interview her three years ago. It is a rare and beautiful conversation. You can read it here, or download it to listen. https://onbeing.org/programs/mary-oliver-listening-to-the-world/
Another of her famous poems is Wild Geese, which begins with:
“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.”
In our busy lives we can often get caught up in the roles we play, be it leader, parent, sister et al and forget the person who we are. We can take people and life for granted and forget to appreciate the richness of every moment in which we are alive. Great poetry, certainly that of Mary Oliver, gives us the opportunity to slow down and transcend our human foibles in order to touch the very best in ourselves and in others.
To live a life with this type of presence, gratitude and wonder was exactly what Mary Oliver did and she blessed the world with fifty years of poetry to help us do the same.
“When Death Comes”:
“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.”
She most certainly did not simply visit this world. She has profoundly changed if for the better.
Thank you, blessed one. RIP .
Copyright 2019 Sheila Madden, Madden Coaching & Consulting