|There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company.
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere.
There is a thing in me still dreams of trees,
But let it go. Homesick for moderation,
Half the world’s artists shrink or fall away.
If any find solution, let him tell it.
Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.
I would it were not so, but so it is.
Who ever made music of a mild day?
the ponds open
like black blossoms,
swims in every one;
everywhere: frogs shouting
their satisfaction. What
we know: that time
chops at us all like an iron
hoe, that death
is a state of paralysis. What
we long for: joy
before death, nights
in the swale – everything else
can wait but not
from the root
of the body. What
we know: we are more
than blood – we are more
than our hunger and yet
to the moon and when the ponds
open, when the burning
begins the most
thoughtful among us dreams
of hurrying down
into the black petals
into the fire,
into the night where time lies shattered
into the body of another.Mary Oliver
||Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman’s boot,
with a white belly.If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharpened nails.
And you know
what a smile means,
I wanted the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,
whoever I was, I was
for a little while.
It was evening, and no longer summer.
Three small fish, I don’t know what they were,
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish.
Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.
You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen
to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.
And anyway it’s the same old story – – –
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
for a simple reason.
And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is
bulging toward them.
if they don’t waste time
looking for an easier world,
they can do it.
||In the afternoon I watched
the she-bear; she was looking
for the secret bin of sweetness –
honey, that the bees store
in the trees’ soft caves.
Black block of gloom, she climbed down
tree after tree and shuffled on
through the woods. And then
she found it! The honey-house deep
as heartwood, and dipped into it
among the swarming bees – honey and comb
she lipped and tongued and scooped out
in her black nails, untilmaybe she grew full, or sleepy, or maybe
a little drunk, and sticky
down the rugs of her arms,
and began to hum and sway.
I saw her let go of the branches,
I saw her lift her honeyed muzzle
into the leaves, and her thick arms,
as though she would fly –
an enormous bee
all sweetness and wings –
down into the meadows, the perfections
of honeysuckle and roses and clover –
to float and sleep in the sheer nets
swaying from flower to flower
day after shining day.
||Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches
||Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches
of other lives –
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey,
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning,
feel like?Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?
Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over
the dark acorn of your heart!
No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!
Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?
Well, there is time left –
fields everywhere invite you into them.
And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?
Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!
To put one’s foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!
To set one’s foot in the door of death, and be overcome
To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
to the song falling out of the mockingbird’s pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened
in the night
To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!
Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.
Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe
I even heard a curl or tow of music, damp and rouge red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.
For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!
A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what’s coming next
is coming with its own heave and grace.
Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?
And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.
That was then, which hasn’t ended yet.
Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean’s edge.
I climb, I backtrack.
I ramble my way home.
|Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard
||His beak could open a bottle,
and his eyes – when he lifts their soft lids –
go on reading something
just beyond your shoulder –
or the Book of Revelation.Never mind that he eats only
the black-smocked crickets,
and the dragonflies if they happen
to be out late over the ponds, and of course
the occasional festal mouse.
Never mind that he is only a memo
from the offices of fear –
it’s not size but surge that tells us
when we’re in touch with something real,
and when I hear him in the orchard
down the little aliminum
ladder of his scream –
when I see his wings open, like two black ferns,
a flurry of palpitations
as cold as sleet
rackets across the marshlands
of my heart
like a wild spring day.
Somewhere in the universe,
in the gallery of important things,
the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish,
sits on its pedestal.
Dear, dark dapple of plush!
A message, reads the label,
from that mysterious conglomerate:
Oblivion and Co.
The hooked head stares
from its house of dark, feathery lace.
It could be a valentine.
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for –
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?Mary Oliver
||All my life,
I have loved
more than one thing,including the mossy hooves
of dreams, including’
the spongy litter
under the tall trees.
the moccasin flowers
reach for the crackling
lick of the sun
and burn down. Sometimes,
in the shadows,
I see the hazy eyes,
its deep drowse,
and I can imagine a new nothing
in the universe,
the matted leaves splitting
the black planks
of the stairs.
But all my life–sofar–
I have loved best
how the flowers rise
and open, how
the pink lungs of their bodies
enter the fore of the world
and stand there shining
and willing–the one
thing they can do before
they shuffle forward
into the floor of darkness, they
become the trees.
||Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back
from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere
except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle
of unobservable mysteries – roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This
I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn
flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – how everything lives, shifting
from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.
Under the orangesticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
||This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingersand they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,
boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away
to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
||Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York,1957
||Once, in summer
in the blueberries,
I fell asleep, and woke
when a deer stumbled against me.I guess
she was so busy with her own happiness
she had grown careless
and was just wandering along
to the wind as she leaned down
to lip up the sweetness.
So, there we were
with nothing between us
but a few leaves, and wind’s
backed away finally
and flung up her white tail
and went floating off toward the trees –
but the moment she did that
was so wide and so deep
it has lasted to this day;
I have only to think of her –
the flower of her amazement
and the stalled breath of her curiosity,
and even the damp touch of her solicitude
before she took flight –
to be absent again from this world
and alive, again, in another
for thirty years
sleepy and amazed,
rising out of the rough weeds
listening and looking.
where are you?
||Poem (The spirit likes to dress up…)
likes to dress up like this:
ten toes,shoulders, and all the rest
in the black branches,
in the morning
in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather
plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
the metaphor of the body,
lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
and the dark hug of time,
to be understood,
to be more than pure light
where no one is —
so it enters us —
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;
and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.
Mary OliverThe poppies send up their
orange flares; swaying
in the wind, their congregations
are a levitation
of bright dust, of thin
and lacy leaves.
There isn’t a place
in this world that doesn’t
sooner or later drown
in the indigos of darkness,
but now, for a while,
shines like a miracle
as it floats above everything
with its yellow hair.
Of course nothing stops the cold,
black, curved blade
from hooking forward—
loss is the great lesson.
But I also say this: that light
is an invitation
and that happiness,
when it’s done right,
is a kind of holiness,
palpable and redemptive.
Inside the bright fields,
touched by their rough and spongy gold,
I am washed and washed
in the river
of earthly delight—
and what are you going to do—
what can you do
deep, blue night?
||And now as the iron rinds over
the ponds start dissolving,
you come, dreaming of ferns and flowers
and new leaves unfolding,
upon the brash
turnip-hearted skunk cabbage
slinging its bunches leaves up
through the chilling mud.
You kneel beside it. The smell
is lurid and flows out in the most
unabashed way, attracting
into itself a continual spattering
of protein. Appalling its rough
green caves, and the thought
of the thick root nested below, stubborn
and powerful as instinct!
But these are the woods you love,
where the secret name
of every death is life again – a miracle
wrought surely not of mere turning
but of dense and scalding reenactment. Not
tenderness, not longing, but daring and brawn
pull down the frozen waterfall, the past.
Ferns, leaves, flowers, the last subtle
refinements, elegant and easeful, wait
to rise and flourish.
What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty.Mary Oliver
||I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.Mary Oliver
||Last night, an owl
in the blue dark
an indeterminate number
of carefully shaped sounds into
the world, in which,
a quarter of a mile away, I happened
to be standing.
I couldn’t tell
which one it was –
the barred or the great-horned
ship of the air –
it was that distant. But, anyway,
aren’t there moments
that are better than knowing something,
and sweeter? Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. I suppose
if this were someone else’s story
they would have insisted on knowing
whatever is knowable – would have hurried
over the fields
to name it – the owl, I mean.
But it’s mine, this poem of the night,
and I just stood there, listening and holding out
my hands to the soft glitter
falling through the air. I love this world,
but not for its answers.
And I wish good luck to the owl,
whatever its name –
and I wish great welcome to the snow,
whatever its severe and comfortless
and beautiful meaning.Mary Oliver
||Some Things The World Gave
Times in the morning early
when it rained and the long gray
buildings came forward from darkness
offering their windows for light.2
Evenings out there on the plains
when sunset donated farms
that yearned so far to the west that the world
centered there and bowed down.
A teacher at a country school
walking home past a great marsh
where ducks came gliding in —
she saw the boy out hunting and waved.
Silence on a hill where the path ended
and then the forest below
moving in one long whisper
as evening touched the leaves.
Shelter in winter that day —
a storm coming, but in the lee
of an island in a cover with friends —
oh, little bright cup of sun.
||Here in my head, language
Keeps making its tiny noises.How can I hope to be friends
with the hard white stars
whose flaring and hissing are not speech
but a pure radiance?
How can I hope to be friends
with the yawning spaces between them
where nothing, ever, is spoken?
Tonight, at the edge of the field,
I stood very still, and looked up,
and tried to be empty of words.
What joy was it, that almost found me?
What amiable peace?
Then it was over, the wind
roused up in the oak trees behind me
and I fell back, easily.
Earth has a hundred thousand pure contraltos–
even the distant night bird
as it talks threat, as it talks love
over the cold, black fields.
Once, deep in the woods,
I found the white skull of a bear
and it was utterly silent–
and once a river otter, in a steel trap,
and it too was utterly silent.
What can we do
but keep on breathing in and out,
modest and willing, and in our places?
Listen, listen, I’m forever saying,
Listen to the river, to the hawk, to the hoof
to the mockingbird, to the jack-in-the-pulpit–
then I come up with a few words, like a gift.
Even as now.
Even as the darkness has remained the pure, deep darkness.
Even as the stars have twirled a little, while I stood here,
one hot sentence after another.
||The first fish
I ever caught
would not lie down
quiet in the pail
but flailed and sucked
at the burning
amazement of the air
in the slow pouring off
of rainbows. Later
I opened his body and separated
the flesh from the bones
and ate him. Now the sea
is in me: I am the fish, the fish
glitters in me; we are
risen, tangled together, certain to fall
back to the sea. Out of pain,
and pain, and more pain
we feed this feverish plot, we are nourished
by the mystery.Mary Oliver
||The Buddha’s Last Instruction
||“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal-a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.Mary Oliver
I wandered the fields
that were thickening
every morning,every rainfall,
with weeds and blossoms,
with the long loops
of the shimmering, and the extravagant-
pale as flames they rose
and fell back,
replete and beautiful-
that was all there was-
and I too
once or twice, at least,
felt myself rising,
touching suddenly the tops of the weeds,
the blue and silky air-
passion did it,
called me forth,
stripped me clean
then covered me with the cloth of happiness-
I think there is no other prize,
only rapture the gleaming,
rapture the illogical the weightless-
whether it be for the perfect shapeliness
of something you love-
like an old German song-
or of someone-
or the dark floss of the earth itself,
heavy and electric.
At the edge of sweet sanity open
such wild, blind wings.
||Now I see it–
it nudges with its bulldog head
the slippery stems of the lilies, making them tremble;
and now it noses along in the wake of the little brown tealwho is leading her soft children
from one side of the pond to the other; she keeps
close to the edge
and they follow closely, the good children–
the tender children,
the sweet children, dangling their pretty feet
into the darkness.
And now will come–I can count on it–the murky splash,
the certain victory
of that pink and gassy mouth, and the frantic
circling of the hen while the rest of the chicks
flare away over the water and into the reeds, and my heart
will be most mournful
on their account. But, listen,
except that the great and cruel mystery of the world,
of which this is a part,
not to be denied. Once,
I happened to see, on a city street, in summer,
a dusty, fouled turtle plodded along–
broken out I suppose from some backyard cage–
and I knew what I had to do–
I looked it right in the eyes, and I caught it–
I put it, like a small mountain range,
into a knapsack, and I took it out
of the city, and I let it
down into the dark pond, into
the cool water,
and the light of the lilies,
||When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purseto buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
||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.Mary Oliver
||Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
|Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?
||Don’t call this world adorable, or useful, that’s not it.
It’s frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.
The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.
The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.
But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white
feet of the trees
whose mouths open.
Doesn’t the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?
Haven’t the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,
until at last, now, they shine
in your own yard?
Don’t call this world an explanation, or even an education.
When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking
outward, to the mountains so solidly there
in a white-capped ring, or was he looking
to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea
that was also there,
beautiful as a thumb
curved and touching the finger, tenderly,
as he whirled,
oh jug of breath,
in the garden of dust?Mary Oliver
|The Chance to Love Everything
||All summer I made friends
with the creatures nearby –
they flowed through the fields
and under the tent walls,
or padded through the door,
grinning through their many teeth,
looking for seeds,
suet, sugar; muttering and humming,
opening the breadbox, happiest when
there was milk and music. But once
in the night I heard a sound
outside the door, the canvas
bulged slightly – something
was pressing inward at eye level.
I watched, trembling, sure I had heard
the click of claws, the smack of lips
outside my gauzy house –
I imagined the red eyes,
the broad tongue, the enormous lap.
Would it be friendly too?
Fear defeated me. And yet,
not in faith and not in madness
but with the courage I thought
my dream deserved,
I stepped outside. It was gone.
Then I whirled at the sound of some
Did I see a black haunch slipping
back through the trees? Did I see
the moonlight shining on it?
Did I actually reach out my arms
toward it, toward paradise falling, like
the fading of the dearest, wildest hope –
the dark heart of the story that is all
the reason for its telling?Mary Oliver
Featured poem for September by Dave Etter
Hollyhocks are swaying gently
under the blue branches of an elm.
I watch 82 freight cars
sink into the corn leaves
and drop over the rim of the prairie.
On my back now, I watch the sky
make wool pictures of mothers.
Two blackbirds fly toward the river:
the muddy river of endless regret.
I could lie here forever
and look up at these hollyhocks.
I will never get on in the world.
Burning Oneself Out by Adrienne Rich
We can look into the stove tonight
as into a mirror, yes,the serrated log, the yellow-blue gaseous core
the crimson-flittered grey ash, yes.
I know inside my eyelids
and underneath my skin
Time takes hold of us like a draft
upward, drawing at the heats
in the belly, in the brain
You told me of setting your hand
into the print of a long-dead Indian
and for a moment, I knew that hand,
that print, that rock,
the sun producing powerful dreams
A word can do this
or, as tonight, the mirror of the fire
of my mind, burning as if it could go on
burning itself, burning down
feeding on everything
till there is nothing in life
that has not fed that fire