Evening Poetry, January 5

Of Time

by Mary Oliver

Don’t even ask how rapidly the hummingbird

lives his life.

You can’t imagine. A thousand flowers a day,

a little sleep, then the same again, then

he vanishes.

I adore him.

Yet I adore also the drowse of mountains.

And in the human world, what is time?

In my mind there is Rumi, dancing.

There is Li Po drinking from the winter stream.

There is Hafiz strolling through Shariz, his feet

loving the dust.

You can find this poem in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems.

Evening Poetry, January 3

What Can I Say

by Mary Oliver

What can I say that I have not said before?

So I’ll say it again.

The leaf has a song in it.

Stone is the face of patience.

Inside the river there is an unfinishable story

and you are somewhere in it

and it will never end until it all ends.

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the

chamber of commerce

but take it also to the forest.

The song you heard singing in the leaf when you

were a child

is singing still.

I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four,

and the leaf is singing still.

You can find this poem in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems.

Evening Poetry, December 20

We Shake With Joy

by Mary Oliver

We shake with joy, we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

housed as they are in the same body.

You can find this poem in Evidence.

Evening Poetry, December 13

White-Eyes

by Mary Oliver

In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
             where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
             Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
    but he’s restless—
         he has an idea,
             and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake.
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
    In the pine-crown
         he makes his nest,
             he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
    I only imagine his glittering beak
         tucked in a white wing
             while the clouds—

which he has summoned
    from the north—
         which he has taught
             to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
    into the world below
         like stars, or the feathers
               of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
    that is asleep now, and silent—
         that has turned itself
             into snow.

Source: Poetry (Poetry Foundation, 2002)

Evening Poetry, November 14

I know this is Mary Oliver’s most loved, widely quoted, and repeated poem, but these are words that live with me. Especially during dark days when depression or despair weigh so heavy my heart can hardly bear it. In my head, I hear her saying, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting…” and it gives me courage to continue. To work through the painful things, to wonder at what cannot be explained, to remember that I have–as we all do– a “place in the family of things”.

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

You can find this poem in Owls and Other Fantasies.

Evening Poetry, November 2

After Her Death

by Mary Oliver

I am trying to find the lesson

for tomorrow. Matthew something.

Which lectionary? I have not

forgotten the Way, but, a little,

the way to the Way. The trees keep whispering

peace, peace, and the birds

in the shallows are full of the

bodies of small fish and are

content. They open their wings

so easily, and fly. So. It is still

possible.

I open the book

which the strange, difficult, beautiful church

has given me. To Matthew. Anywhere.

You can find this poem in Thirst.

Evening Poetry, October 9

The Old Poets of China

by Mary Oliver

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.

It offers me its busyness. It does not believe

that I do not want it. Now I understand

why the old poets of China went so far and high

into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

You can find this poem in Why I Wake Early.

Evening Poetry, September 23

The Fist

by Mary Oliver

There are days

when the sun goes down

like a fist,

though of course

if you see anything

in the heavens

in this way

you had better get

your eyes checked

or, better still,

your diminished spirit.

The heavens

have no fist,

or wouldn’t they have been

shaking it

for a thousand years now,

and even

longer than that,

at the dull, brutish

ways of mankind–

heaven’s own

creation?

Instead: such patience!

Such willingness

to let us continue!

To hear,

little by little,

the voices–

only, so far, in

pockets of the world–

suggesting

the possibilities

of peace?

Keep looking.

Behold, how the fist opens

with invitation.

You can find this poem in Thirst.

Evening Poetry, September 8

Praying

by Mary Oliver

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.

You can find this poem in Thirst.

Evening Poetry, April 30

In honor of National Poetry Month, and Mary Oliver, our beloved national poet who passed away in January, I will be posting one of her poems each evening in April. I am hoping to follow in the footsteps of Sarah Clarkson and read a poem on Instagram Live in the evenings as well…Follow me on Instagram to tune in.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the praises and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

This poem can be found in the collection Dream Work.