Acceptance, Attention, and Authenticity: Three Poems by Mary Oliver

Acceptance, Attention, and Authenticity: Three Poems by Mary Oliver

Discussion date: Thu, Mar 21, 2013 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends

Mary Oliver’s poems are often mentioned in Dharma discussions and recited from memory in tea ceremonies. She expresses the longings, struggles, and joys of many mindfulness practitioners.

I’ve appreciated her poems in print for years, but I hadI never heard the sound of her voice. Recently, though, I discovered a 2006 radio show that included Mary Oliver reading several poems I especially enjoy.

This Thursday after our meditation period we will listen to Mary Oliver read “Wild Geese,” “Summer Day,” and “The Journey.” In our Dharma discussion we will explore the ways these poems, and other poems written by Mary Oliver, speak to our inner lives and guide us on our journeys. You are invited to join us.

Copies of the three poems are below. The radio program from which I extracted the poems is available at KUOW.org.

Many blessings,

Mitchell

Three Poems by Mary Oliver

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,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean–

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

"Mend my life!"

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and 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.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Mar 21, 2013


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