Friday, October 19, 2012

Mary Oliver: A Thousand Mornings

I am reading as I write, so this isn't so much a book review as an expression of joy in the publication of a new volume of poetry by Mary Oliver.

If I recall correctly, my first introduction to Mary Oliver came courtesy of my daughter's 11th grade English teacher, who used her allotted 20 minutes or so on Parents' Night to teach us (the parents) a brief lesson on "Praying" in order to demonstrate what she was doing with our young people.   ("It doesn't have to be the blue iris . . . ".)

That would have been in the fall of 2003.  Since then, Mary Oliver's poems have had a way of popping up in ways that, could I list them all, would probably form themselves into an outline of many of the most significant people in my life.

Which poem do I love the most?  I don't know.  These are the lines I tend to quote:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

(from "Wild Geese") 

She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child,
And amazing things can happen.

(from "Love Sorrow")

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled -

roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

(from "Heavy") 


And now, in a new gift:

But I thought, of the wren's singing, what could this be if it isn't a prayer? 

(from "I Happened To Be Standing")


This last reminded me of my grandmother, whose clothespin bag, hanging on the line, was rendered useless on more than one occasion by nesting wrens.

Mary Oliver, of course, would remind us to question our definitions of usefulness and uselessness.  What could possibly be more useful than wren parents who have set up housekeeping in a clothespin bag? 

As we stood beside my grandmother's grave a few winters ago, listening to my daughter sing, a Carolina wren blended his voice with hers.  What else could it be, but a prayer?


  1. Thanks for this lovely post Robin. You might like this link
    -Just after reading your post I came across a link at NPR - Mary Oliver reading from her new book and also a short interview.Some of her remarks on younger poets and bicycle trails provoked a bit of a backlash so make sure you have a look at the comments section !
    By the way I love her work as much as you do. Blessings

    1. Thank you, Phil, for the link; I've just now enjoyed the interview -- and the comments!

  2. That "Wild Geese" quote is also one of my favorites.

  3. Clearly I need to buy this book....

  4. I really appreciate Mary Oliver's poetry so thank you very much for this post. Thanks also to Philomena for the NPR link - good stuff.