Evening Poetry, January 7

On the Beach

by Mary Oliver

On the beach, at dawn:

four small stones clearly

hugging each other.

How many kinds of love

might there be in the world,

and how many formations might they make

and who am I ever

to imagine I could know

such a marvelous business?

When the sun broke

it poured willingly its light

over the stones

that did not move, not at all,

just as, to its always generous term,

it shed its light on me,

my own body that loves,

equally, to hug another body.

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

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, 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 18

Logos

by Mary Oliver

Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?

If you say the right words, the wine expands.

If you say them with love

and the felt ferocity of that love

and the felt necessity of that love,

the fish explode into many.

Imagine him, speaking,

and don’t worry about what is reality,

or what is plain, or what is mysterious.

If you were there, it was all those things.

If you can imagine it, it is all those things.

Eat, drink, be happy.

Accept the miracle.

Accept, too, each spoken word

spoken with love.

You can find this poem in Why I Wake Early.

Evening Poetry, December 16

Dreams

by Mary Oliver

All night

the dark buds of dreams

open

richly.

In the center

of every petal

is a letter,

and you imagine

if you could only remember

and string them all together

they would spell the answer.

It is a long night,

and not an easy one–

you have so many branches,

and there are diversions–

birds that come and go,

the black fox that lies down

to sleep beneath you,

the moon staring

with her bone-white eye.

Finally you have spent

all the energy you can

and you drag from the ground

the muddy skirt of your roots

and leap awake

with two or three syllables

like water in your mouth

and a sense

of loss–a memory

not yet of a word,

certainly not yet the answer–

only how it feels

when deep in the tree

all the locks click open,

and the fire surges through the wood,

and the blossoms blossom.

You can find this in Dream Work.

Evening Poetry, December 1

Mysteries, Yes

by Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous

to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the

mouths of the lambs.

How rivers and stones are forever

in allegiance with gravity

while we ourselves dream of rising.

How two hands touch and the bonds will

never be broken.

How people come, from delight or the

scars of damage,

to the comfort of a poem.

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.

You can find this poem in Evidence.

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 24

Dreams

by Mary Oliver

All night

the dark buds of dreams

open

richly.

In the center

of every petal

is a letter,

and you imagine

if you could only remember

and string them all together

they would spell the answer.

It is a long night,

and not an easy one–

you have so many branches,

and there are diversions–

birds that come and go,

the black fox that lies down

to sleep beneath you,

the moon staring

with her bone-white eye.

Finally you have spent

all the energy you can

and you drag from the ground

the muddy skirt of your roots

and leap awake

with two or three syllables

like water in your mouth

and a sense

of loss–a memory

not yet of a word,

certainly not yet the answer–

only how it feels

when deep in the tree

all the locks click open,

and the fire surges through the wood,

and the blossoms blossom.

You can find this poem in Dream Work.

Evening Poetry, October 12

Goldenrod, Late Fall

by Mary Oliver

This morning the goldenrod are all wearing

their golden shirts

fresh from heaven’s soft wash in the chill night.

So it must be a celebration.

And here comes the wind, so many swinging wings!

Has he been invited, or is he the intruder?

Invited, whisper the golden pebbles of the weeds,

as they begin to fall

over the ground. Well, you would think the little murmurs

of the broken blossoms would have said

otherwise, but no. So I sit down among them to

think about it while all around me the crumbling

goes on. The weeds let down their seedy faces

cheerfully, which is the part I like best, and certainly

it is as good as a book for learning from. You would think

they were just going for a small sleep. You would think

they couldn’t wait, it was going to be

that snug and even, as all their lives were, full of

excitation. You would think

it was a voyage just beginning, and no darkness anywhere,

but tinged with all necessary instruction, and light,

and all were shriven, as all the round world is,

and so it wasn’t anything but easy to fall, to whisper

Good Night.

You can find this poem in Why I Wake Early.