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.
Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.
Who knows, maybe the root is the flower of that other life.
—Mary Oliver, from Blue Pastures (Harvest Original, 1995)
Thank you, apoetreflects)
The poem is not the world.
It isn’t even the first page of the world.
But the poem wants to flower, like a flower.
It knows that much.
It wants to open itself,
like the door of a little temple,
so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed,
and less yourself than part of everything.
—Mary Oliver, section 8 of “Flare” in The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem (Da Capo Press, 2000)
Thank you, apoetreflects.
The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely, or anyway that part of the world he or she has taken for subject. If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers—has not seen them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way.
Say you promise to be at your desk in the evenings from seven to nine. It waits, It watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself - soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly or it will not appear at all.
Why should it? It can wait. It can stay silent a lifetime.
–Mary Oliver, from A Poetry Handbook
Thank you, poetbabble.
In the act of writing the poem, I am obedient, and submissive. Insofar as one can, I put aside ego and vanity, and even intention. I listen. What I hear is almost a voice, almost a language. It is a second ocean, rising, singing into one’s ear, or deep inside the ears, whispering in the recesses where one is less oneself than a part of some single indivisible community. Blake spoke of taking diction. I am no Blake, yet I know the nature of what he meant. Every poet knows it. One learns the craft, and then casts off. One hopes for gifts. One hopes for direction. It is both physical, and spooky. It is intimate, and inapprehensible. Perhaps it is for this reason that the act of first-writing, for me, involves nothing more complicated than paper and pencil. The abilities of a typewriter or computer would not help in this act of slow and deep listening.
“I would like to do whatever it is that presses the essence from the hour.”
—Mary Oliver, from The Poet’s Notebook: Excerpts from the Notebooks of 26 American Poets, edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall, and David Weiss (W. W. Norton & Company, 1995)
Thank you, apoetreflects.
I lounge on the grass, that’s all. So
simple. Then I lie back until I am
inside the cloud that is just above me
but very high, and shaped like a fish.
Or, perhaps not. Then I enter the place
of not-thinking, not-remembering, not-
wanting. When the blue jay cries out his
riddle, in his carping voice, I return.
But I go back, the threshold is always
near. Over and back, over and back. Then
I rise. Maybe I rub my face as though I
have been asleep. But I have not been
asleep. I have been, as I say, inside
the cloud, or, perhaps, the lily floating
on the water. Then I go back to town,
to my own house, my own life, which has
now become brighter and simpler, some-
where I have never been before.
—Mary Oliver, “Six Recognitions of the Lord,” Thirst: Poems. Brought to you by Whiskey River.