gifts from Mary Oliver

When I Am Among the Trees…

light road landscape nature

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When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

Beloved poet Mary Oliver died on January 17. She was 83, and shared so many poems, and so much light with the world. It was as if, through her poetry and through her own living, she held a flashlight for us all, shining it onto all the small and ordinary details of life, illuminating a sacred shimmering presence – grace, beauty, wonder, nature being nature, human being human. In her poetry everything belonged. Through her noticing, we notice. Through her deep appreciation, we learn to see. Through her awe, we are drawn into wonder.

Writing a reflection on Mary Oliver for the New Yorker magazine, Rachel Syne highlights a rare interview Mary Oliver gave to Maria Shriver, in which she spoke of the damage of her early abuse.  Syne writes, “for more than five decades Oliver gave voice to the process of confronting one’s dark places, of peering underneath toadstools and into stagnant ponds. And, when she looked there, she found forgiveness. She found grace. She found that she was allowed to love the world.” (italics mine)

In the broken places of my life — through all my efforts to manage, order and set strict boundaries (walls, really) — I tried my best to protect myself and others. Unwittingly, I had traded a (presumed) safety for true freedom and joy. It didn’t work. Instead, I became increasingly guarded and fearful, and pain didn’t respect the boundaries/walls I had so carefully erected against it.

The poetry of Mary Oliver is a significant source of light and truth that helps free me. Grace, beauty, and joy flow through her words – assuring me that (in spite of all the brokenness) I can still take the risk to be present, pay attention, and love. As Mary Oliver says elsewhere: “Love for the earth and love for you (Lord) are having such a long conversation in my heart.”

Which brings me to her well-loved poem about prayer, which I’ll share here. How liberating it is to think of prayer as a simple, humble noticing: a gentle “doorway” into gratitude and quiet where our own clamoring is hushed, so that we might hear another’s voice:

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.

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I encourage you to seek out some of Mary Oliver’s poetry. There is much online, and some wonderful books available. I have decided that in the coming year I will focus on her poetry and prose – to absorb her words and spirit, and learn from her. So I will probably be sharing more of my favorites here as well.
I end with Mary’s three instructions:.
“Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.
(from her poem “Sometimes”)
Please feel free to share your favorite Mary Oliver poems in the “comments.” I’d love to know how her words – and other poetry – have touched your life.
in peace this day~

4 thoughts on “gifts from Mary Oliver

  1. bsmiskoaolcom

    I was so grieved the day I heard Mary died. It has been such a delight and truly comforting to see how many people loved her. Her poems have been popping up all over the internet since then. How happy I am that you are choosing to reflect upon her words. They prod and prick and pry my spirit open to see the world with greater clarity.

    1. ghlstn Post author

      Bobbi~ How wonderful to find Mary Oliver words “prod and prick and pray your spirit open to see the world with greater clarity.” A wonderful way to describe what happens when we read Mary Oliver!! Thank you.

  2. lighthouse99

    Thank you for sharing those poems.
    I have not read many of her poems, but I love poetry and write my own.
    I especially loved her three instructions for living.

    Inspired to pay closer attention, even feel a poem coming on…………….:>) with today’s snow surrounding me.

    1. ghlstn Post author

      you’re welcome, Helene. I encourage you to explore more of Mary Oliver’s poetry.
      yes, to “pay closer attention” is the heart of poetry – the primary call to those of us with a poet’s heart :).
      Would love to read some of your poetry! ~Donna


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