September 4, 2011

Joie de vivre

Though in her latest book of poetry, Evidence, Mary Oliver talks too much about God and the spiritual - too much that is for an atheist like me - it is still a treasure trove of lovely poems, each one celebrating the wonderful amazing world around us and like most of Mary Oliver's poems is a celebration of life - life at its most luminous, life at its most moving, life at its most brutal or to put it in the poet's own words - "the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything". Such a celebration of life through its various disappointments and its various mysteries "too marvelous to understand" makes Mary Oliver's poetry as enjoyable as anything else I have ever read.

Consider these lines:
Let me keep my distance, always, from those 
who think they have the answers. 

Let me keep company always with those who say 
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment, 
and bow their heads." - Mary Oliver (Mysteries, Yes)
Or these lines, which are actually truly enjoyed by reading the whole poem, which is about swans the poet sees- appearing "over the dunes...and hurried on to the sea or some lonely pond or wherever it is that swans go":
What we love, shapely and pure,
    is not to be held,
       but to be believed in.
          And then they vanished, into the unreachable distance.

Or the heart-break at the end of 'Thinking of Swirler', about a deer Mary Oliver enjoys quietly looking at during her walks through the woods

Or the lovely short poem, reproduced here in its entirety:

We Shake With Joy
We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
What a time they have, these two
housed as they are in the same body.

Or these lines from a poem called Imagine:
Will death allow such transportation of the eye?
   Will we see then into the breaking open
      of the kernel of corn,
the sprout plunging upward through damp clod
   and into the sun?

Well, we will all find out, each of us.
   And what would we be, beyond the yardstick,
beyond supper and dollars,
   if we were not filled with such wondering?

My favorite poem in the book was "To Begin with, the sweet grass"  but there are many other lovely poems in the book of course, as with any Mary Oliver book. I'll leave you though with two more poems from the book, reproduced here in its entirety. Hope you rush out and buy her book after you finish reading this post!

He takes such small steps
to express our longings.
Thank you, Schubert.

How many hours
do I sit here
aching to do

what I do not do
when, suddenly,
he throws a single note

higher than the others
so that I feel
the green field of hope,

and then, descending,
all this world’s sorrow,
so deadly, so beautiful.


I want to write something so simply

I want to write something
so simply
about love
or about pain
that even
as you are reading
you feel it
and as you read
you keep feeling it
and though it be my story
it will be common,
though it be singular
it will be known to you
so that by the end
you will think—
no, you will realize—
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your heart
had been saying.

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