I was looking through my daughter’s Book of Hours/Poetry Book. I found a poem she had copied that was also in my Book of Hours.
Mary Oliver passed away and we loved her poetry. I wrote how she deeply inspired me in this post about my real work.
From a very early age, poetry filled my days. Once I had children, I made sure that I added poetry to our everyday life. Amidst the mundane tasks of washing dishes and changing diapers, I read poems to my children.
As they learned to write, they copied little verses about the sun or a rainbow. Now as teenagers they have their own poetry books that they copy from, that they read when they need to love the world or simply find their place in it.
Mary Oliver’s poems always hit the spot. When my kids needed a poem to soothe or to just feel the beauty of words, we would first turn to Mary. My kids grew up in Ontario and in the woods. They understood the language of the moose, the wings of the moth , the blue iris, and the maple tree. She spoke the language of ponds and rivers that they waded in. To us still, her poetry is home.
Actually, I find her spirit through many of my posts – how to love the world is a recurring theme. When my eldest daughter turned 15, I had a panic attack. She was about to embark on her first trip abroad without me. How was I going to do this? How was I going to be ok with letting them go?
Miss Mary had the answer:
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring
down the mountain.
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring
I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:
how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge
to sharpen her claws against
of the trees.
my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,
it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;
all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her perfect love.
I was entering the “Spring” season of parenting a teenager – a beginner with fresh fears and anxious thoughts. But if I could start to ask the question How could I love this world? Maybe I could slowly release them, acclimatizing myself by looking at my own beliefs about the world. And maybe this unknown, this mystery of the world, is a “dazzling darkness” where the light is waiting to find it.
It is not the menacing darkness of monsters in the deep waiting to devour but the darkness where life grows and incubates waiting to be born.
If I don’t love this world, how could I possibly trust it to take care of my children?
And as we travelled further down the road of homeschooling, I also shifted my intention to how I can nurture and protect their love for the world because that is where they will feel safe and comforted, like in the words of this poet who asks for their astonishment and to be determined to save the only life they could save.
The questions became more urgent. Who did they need to be in this world to save themselves so they could save it? How could I teach them to pray when I forgot how to?
And then this…
“The Summer Day”
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the 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 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?
And this is the question I ask them where the answer won’t be swift or the same as we explore together the world and deepen our love for it…
What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Thank you Mary Oliver. Thank you for the words that demanded us to look at this world closely through the eyes of the snail and to step back and see the total landscape from the backs of wild geese.
“When Death Comes”
by 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 measles-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 is 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.
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