by Mary Oliver
If you haven’t met me then you’ve possibly never hear me quote Mary Oliver’s poetry. In a bookstore in Albuquerque I first read her poem “Wild Geese.” I wept. Her words were both comforting and jarring. Suddenly I had the language to describe that searing sense of aloneness merged with the reality of interconnectedness.
“…whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to you imagination…
annoncing your place
in the family of things.” (from New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1Beacon Press; paperback, 2005, 0807068780)
The latest offering from Oliver flows from the heart of her experiences: loss, grief, love and the discovery of faith. Her opening poem “Messenger” just pulls out all the stops and feels like a creed to me: “My work is loving the world…” I can’t even get past that first line! What a statement! How I wish that was the calling of all of us, but it is certainly my calling. And once again Mary Oliver puts in words what I have felt all along. How does she do it? This New England poet reaches down into the earth and along with a handful of dirt she finds the heart and soul of the world.
In another poem entitled “Praying” she manages to summarize the experience of prayer with her gift of observation by a few simple words: “pay attention,” “iris,” “doorway,” “silence.” And if you wonder what an iris has to do with prayer, well, then you’ve never read Mary Oliver and your prayer life needs expanding!
Here’s the bottom line: I never know how much I need solace and a kick in the pants until I read a poem by Mary Oliver. This book slakes that thirst, compels me to live my life. Her poems are sermons from a life lived, inviting the rest of us to live our wonderful lives.