I’m sure you’ve all heard that Mary Oliver, the acclaimed poet, died this past week. Upon her passing, I was surprised to see such passionate and vehement opinions (all favorable) about her work, expressed by various nature writers whom I admire. I came across her poems once or twice and enjoyed them, but had never dug deep. So, encouraged by all these wonderful comments, I attempted to do so now.
And, WOW. Her work is really inspiring. I wish I had discovered her earlier. All of it is deeply spiritual, deeply nature-loving, and wonderfully understandable (not the case with many poets). I have ordered her latest book, ‘Devotions,’ which is a sort of best-of. It’s a book I think we should have around, and should be read by anyone who appreciates nature.
I read an essay about her in the Washington Post, by Maggie Smith, that really hit home for me; here’s the paragraph that made me truly tune in: “I learned from Mary Oliver how attention is a kind of love, how shining your mind’s light on a thing - a grasshopper, a bird, a tree - is a way of showing gratitude. I learned that poems do not need to be ‘difficult’ to be intelligent, that poems can be both inspirational and investigative, that poems can be tender without being soft. I learned from her to own my wonder and to stay open to uncertainty.”
Does that sound familiar? Isn’t it sort of a theme of ours, those of us who appreciate nature, and who want to mark its processes in some way? Haven’t we talked about, over and over, the need to pay attention, to tell the story? Mary Oliver was one of us.
Her most famous poems are famous for a reason - they resonate. Here is one I love:
I think there is probably no greater epitaph - no greater appreciation of this poet and her life - than to go outside this weekend, no matter the weather, and pay attention.