My favourite poet, Mary Oliver (Sept 10, 1935 – Jan 17, 2019) passed away recently, and I have been re-reading her work. I am captivated by her images of nature, the way her words depict scenes vividly and imaginatively, such as ‘the eyelash of lightning’ (Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does it End?). Doesn’t that provide a compelling visual? I also admire the imagery in this excerpt from Rhapsody part 7: “If you are in the sea I will slide into that smooth blue nest, I will talk fish, I will adore salt’. Isn’t that a thought-provoking way to represent love?
Her work challenges and inspires me, not only to be a better poet but to fulfil my own unique potential as a person. In her poem ‘When Death Comes’, she states: “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” I agree with her sentiment. It motivates me to consider what I am leaving to the world – what memories, what words. Will I have any impact on it? Am I interacting and engaging enough with the world?
And who hasn’t appreciated her famous quote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” (The Summer Day)? She asks us personally what we will choose to accomplish. She emphasizes that we have only one life, and that it can wriggle out of our grasp if we are not careful. She challenges us, but she also accepts us:
‘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.’
‘Wild Geese’ is framed on the wall of my bedroom, and it has helped me cope with some difficult times.
Mary Oliver loved her partner Molly Malone deeply, and I appreciate how she adored unreservedly and that she was forthcoming about it: “from the complications of loving you i think there is no end or return. no answer, no coming out of it. which is the only way to love ” (Thirst). She was true to herself and her love, not just of Molly but of the natural world, and she inspires us to do the same. I understood her, because our gratitude for nature and our continuous curiosity and openness to feeling are similar.
Her words stay with me. Her poetry has calmed me, contented me, inspired and challenged me. That is what art is meant to do, what it is capable of accomplishing. What more can you ask for?
I am also reading Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight. I am in awe of the way he writes. His prose is gorgeous and intelligent. I enjoy every sentence. I am a voracious reader, and I read several books a week. And some are more satisfying than others. I appreciate poetic language and learning something new – whether about a culture or historical event. Michael Ondaatje leaves me feeling both refreshed and knowledgeable, a superlative combination.