Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To be mindful of wonder

Every day
I see or hear
something
that more or less
kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for -
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over
in joy,
and acclamation.
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?
 

Wonder and delight couldn't be expressed more simply than Mary Oliver did, in this poem of hers titled 'Mindful'. Succinctly, she expresses her amazement at the beauty of the world and she succeeds in creating a reflection of this feeling in the reader's heart. Isn't this the meaning and purpose of poetry? A transference of emotion in all directions of time and space.

Oliver is an American poetess born in 1935 in Ohio. She began writing poetry at the age of 14, and by 28, she was a published author of her first collection.  Her fifth collection of poetry, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. Having served as 'Poet In Residence' at Bucknell University (1986) and the 'Margaret Banister Writer in Residence' at Sweet Briar College (1991), she moved to Vermont, where she held the 'Catharine Osgood Foster Chair' for Distinguished Teaching until 2001. She has continued her celebration of nature, with published collections as recent as 2009.

Oliver's creativity is influenced and inspired by the natural world. She engages in long walks near hear home and frequently writes about her encounters and the emotions stirred in her while on these walks. In a rare interview, she said, “When things are going well, you know, the walk does not get rapid or get anywhere: I finally just stop, and write. That’s a successful walk!” 

Referring to the simplicity of her style and themes, the Harvard Review wrote of her work as an antidote to "inattention and the baroque conventions of our social and professional lives. She is a poet of wisdom and generosity whose vision allows us to look intimately at a world not of our making." 

She is often compared to Thoreau and Whitman for her affinity to observations of nature and its processes and to Emily Dickinson, for her interior monologues. Jeanette McNew in 'Contemporary Literature' described “Oliver’s visionary goal,” as “constructing a subjectivity that does not depend on separation from a world of objects. Instead, she respectfully confers subjecthood on nature, thereby modeling a kind of identity that does not depend on opposition for definition. At its most intense, her poetry aims to peer beneath the constructions of culture and reason that burden us with an alienated consciousness to celebrate the primitive, mystical visions that reveal ‘a mossy darkness – / a dream that would never breathe air / and was hinged to your wildest joy / like a shadow.’”

Oliver and Molly Malone Cook, her literary agent and partner of forty years, made their home together until Cook's death in 2005. Staunchly valuing her personal life, she gives few interviews, proclaiming that her writing speaks for itself. She currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts.



This is her picture from way back. Doesn't she look like some one you would've liked to talk endlessly about sunsets and butterflies in another world, in another time...



Now that we have a picture portrait of how wonderful she is, I want to add more colour and post more of what she has written. Her words are so poignant, I could never stop reading them or being over awed in their presence. She instills wonder and delight in me. And I could get addicted to the feeling. 

Wild Geese
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,
call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

The Swan
 

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

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, hanging
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
continually?
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
with amazement!

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
present hour,
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 float.
I ramble my way home.



When death comes


When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-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 is 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.


In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
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.

I just cant seem to stop! Here are some immortal verses from her poetry and other quotes. This is only because I am painfully aware that if I post the whole poems like I've been doing so far, this post will run to pages. And my 2 tremendously valuable readers, 'Arsenios' and 'The Sartorial Diary' might disappear forever.

"Hello, sun in my face. Hello you who made the morning and spread it over the fields...Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness." 

"Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed." 

"Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Talk about it." 

"You want to cry aloud for your mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn't need any more of that sound."  

"For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry." 

"I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed."  

"...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 you could do --
determined to save
the only life you could save." 

"Ten times a day something happens to me like this - some strengthening throb of amazement - some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness." 

"Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?" 

"I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything - other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion - that standing within this otherness - the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books - can re-dignify the worst-stung heart."  

"Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled---to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. " 

And if you have reached thus far, I applaud you. And I end with this, not out of a dearth of her poignance but because a taste is sometimes all it takes before you pause and take a sip. So this is the pause. 

"Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going." 

1 comment:

  1. Love the poems..they are so fresh. It really does lift you up..

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for being here. You must know that I love reading your comments more than I love the idea of baby bunnies eating frosted cupcakes sitting atop a cloud. They make me happy when skies are blue, yellow, pink or grey. ♥