Apr 3 2011

A Poet’s Gift

I have to confess that I don’t know much about poetry.  Another confession; I haven’t found a lot of poetry I really like.  I realize that this says far more about me than it does about poets and their work.  Until recently the only poet I read with much regularity is Wendell Berry.  This past week things changed.

In a conversation with my friend and blogging partner, Rob Sheppard, he asked me if I was familiar with the poetry of Mary Oliver.  I had to confess I had never heard of her.  Rob told me he thought I would enjoy her writing so upon his recommendation I bought one of her books.  Having now read approximately half of that book I owe Rob a huge debt of gratitude for introducing me to this Pulitzer Prize winning poet.

John Keats once said, “Poetry should… should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.“  Keats words ring true for me when I read Oliver’s poems.  She so eloquently writes about nature and spiritual matters that I feel at times her words have captured my “highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.”  Let me give you some examples.

Writing about a thrush in her poem “North Country” she says “There is no way to be sufficiently grateful for the gifts we are given, no way to speak the Lord’s name often enough, though we do try, and especially now, as that dappled breast breathes in the pines and heaven’s windows in the north country, now spring has come, are opened wide.”  In a piece called “The Faces of Deer” Oliver says “Each hoof of each animal makes the sign of a heart as it touches then lifts away from the ground.  Unless you believe that heaven is very near, how will you find it?  Their eyes are pools in which one would be content, on any summer afternoon, to swim away through the door of the world. Then, love and its blessing.  Then: heaven.”

In a poem called “Patience” Oliver encourages all who would find God in Creation to slow down.  She writes, “I used to hurry everywhere, and leaped over the running creeks. There wasn’t time enough for all the wonderful things I could think of to do in a single day.  Patience comes to the bones before it takes roots in the heart as another good idea. I say this as I stand in the woods and study the patterns of the moon shadows, or stroll down into the waters that now, late summer, have also caught the fever, and hardly move from one eternity to another.” 

Finally, in a poem called “Circles” Mary Oliver writes a passage that I’d love to use as my epitaph some day.  She says “I am so happy to be alive in this world I would like to live forever, but I am content not to.  Seeing what I have seen has filled me; believing what I believe has filled me.” 

I share these words of Mary Oliver with you because I believe that here is a woman who can teach us all much about how to see and experience God in nature.  I know that her words will cause me to see things differently now.  What a gift!


(I took the image of the whitetail deer fawn above in Shenandoah National Park.)