Runners Who Read

Who knew? A bunch of runners who enjoy reading and discussing what they read.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mary Oliver!!!

Catholic nuns impressed upon me, at a very early age, that it was a desecration (bordering on mortal sin) to dog-ear the pages of a book. In my innocent youth I strove to respect every book I touched. Miscreant that I am, however, I eventually succumbed to dog-earing the pages of poetry books. I wanted to find my favorite poems as quickly as possible. Hence…despite chronic guilt…I filled my shelves with tomes of poems, ragged but glorious in their defilement.

And so it was when I picked up Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems – Volume One. Each page ended bent and frayed. Dog-eared page after dog-eared page, I found myself transported to a profoundly beautiful world of owls, hummingbirds, swamps, forests, daisies, sunflowers, ravens, deer and herons. Mary Oliver renders the ordinary extraordinary and finds deeper truths in the living world surrounding us. I found her poems so captivating that I realized, about halfway through this book, that I had dog-eared every page. There was simply no need to mark all the pages. Each poem was a joy, a gift, a revelation. Yes, she is THAT good. She truly deserves her Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and National Book Award. This book is, without a doubt, my favorite poetry collection of all time (sorry Pablo and May…).

For those of you who have yet to experience the wisdom and innate goodness of Mary Oliver, here are a few morsels:

“…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…”

“…for it’s true, isn’t it,
in our world,
that the petals pooled with nectar, and the polished thorns
are a single thing –
that even the purest light, lacking the robe of darkness,
would be without expression –
that love itself, without its pain, would be
no more than a shruggable comfort…”

“…where the hummingbird comes
like a small green angel, to soak
his dark tongue in happiness –“

“When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms…”

“Look, I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.”

“In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
to come out of its cloud and lift its wings.”

“…you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal:
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

“Like Magellan, let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.”

“Because we lived our several lives
Caught up within the spells of love,
Because we always had to run
Through the enormous yards of day
To do all that we hoped to do,
We did not hear, beneath our lives,
The old walls falling out of true,
Foundations shifting in the dark.”

“…and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing that you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.”


Blogger Ed said...

I am so glad you found Mary Oliver's book! She is my new discovery for 2005 (even though she's well into her seventies and has been publishing forever) and I am eagerly awaiting the publishing of Volume Two of her selected poems this fall.

There is a great deal of Zen in her thinking -- that desire to live in the moment and see the infinite in the ordinary. It's a fine tightrope she's walking, that line between the expression of an almost childlike joy and something tougher and more mature ... but somehow, she manages.

She's a wonderful craftsperson and student of verse as well -- hunt down her book on writing poetry (A Poetry Handbook) if you get a chance, even if you don't feel inclined to write any. It gives a lot of insight into her thoughts on writing and poetry in general.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Many, many thanks, Ed, for bringing these poems to me. I really cannot say enough about her work. It is truly captivating.

As a matter of fact, I've been writing poetry since high school (all of it doggerel, unfortunately). I will certainly hunt down her Poetry Handbook.

2:13 PM  

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