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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mary Oliver, a Thirst for life and light


“My work is loving the world,” poet Mary Oliver writes in the first line of her opening poem “Messenger”.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
            equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

“Are my boots old?” she asks, “Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
            keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
            astonished.”

It “is mostly rejoicing,” she continues, “since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
            and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
            to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug up clams,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
            that we all live forever.

There is a joyance here … and sadness and yearning for the love lost when her partner of more than forty years died of cancer the year before these poems were published. “When I think of her,” she writes in “Those Days”, “I think of the long summer days/ she lay in the sun, how she loved the sun, how we/ spread our blanket, and friends came, and” what life was like until she died.

Light flows from the branches of trees. “Stay awhile,” they call in her poem “When I Am Among the Trees”; “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.”

Mary Oliver has a hunger and a thirst for life and love, a joyance about life that comes from gratitude, and a kindness about her that is so appealing.

If you enjoy good poetry, Thirst will be a treasure on your shelf to be read again and again as I have done and do.

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