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Authors: Mary Oliver

Thirst

BOOK: Thirst
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O
THER
B
OOKS BY
M
ARY
O
LIVER

P
OETRY
No Voyage and Other Poems
The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems
Twelve Moons
American Primitive
Dream Work
House of Light
New and Selected Poems Volume One
White Pine
West Wind
The Leaf and the Cloud
What Do We Know
Owls and Other Fantasies
Why I Wake Early
Blue Iris
New and Selected Poems Volume Two

C
HAPBOOKS
AND
S
PECIAL
E
DITIONS
The Night Traveler
Sleeping in the Forest
Provincetown
Wild Geese
(UK Edition)

P
ROSE
A Poetry Handbook
Blue Pastures
Rules for the Dance
Winter Hours
Long Life

For
Molly Malone Cook

(1925–2005)

CONTENTS

Messenger

Walking Home from Oak-Head

When I Am Among the Trees

The Poet Visits the Museum of Fine Arts

Musical Notation: 1

Ribbon Snake Asleep in the Sun

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention

Great Moth Comes from His Papery Cage

Swimming with Otter

Mozart, for Example

Making the House Ready for the Lord

The Winter Wood Arrives

After Her Death

Percy (Four)

Cormorants

What I Said at Her Service

A Note Left on the Door

Those Days

A Pretty Song

Coming to God: First Days

The Vast Ocean Begins Just Outside Our Church: The Eucharist

Six Recognitions of the Lord

The Beautiful, Striped Sparrow

More Beautiful than the Honey Locust Tree Are the Words of the Lord

The Place I Want to Get Back To

Praying

Musical Notation: 2

News of Percy (Five)

Doesn’t Every Poet Write a Poem about Unrequited Love?

Letter to ___________.

The Poet Thinks about the Donkey

Gethsemane

The Fist

Logan International

The Poet Comments on Yet Another Approaching Spring

The Uses of Sorrow

Heavy

On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (
Psalm 145
)

Percy (Six)

Percy (Seven)

In the Storm

The Chat

EPILOGUE

Thirst

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba,
as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and
meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my
thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up
and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers
became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you
will, you can become all flame.”

—From
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
  

Messenger

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—
    equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
    keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
    astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
    and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
    to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
    that we live forever.

Walking Home from Oak-Head

There is something
    about the snow-laden sky
        in winter
            in the late afternoon

that brings to the heart elation
    and the lovely meaninglessness
        of time.
            Whenever I get home—whenever—

somebody loves me there.
    Meanwhile
        I stand in the same dark peace
            as any pine tree,

or wander on slowly
    like the still unhurried wind,
        waiting,
            as for a gift,

for the snow to begin
    which it does
        at first casually,
            then, irrepressibly.

Wherever else I live—
    in music, in words,
        in the fires of the heart,
            I abide just as deeply

in this nameless, indivisible place,
    this world,
        which is falling apart now,
            which is white and wild,

which is faithful beyond all our expressions of faith,
    our deepest prayers.
        Don’t worry, sooner or later I’ll be home.
            Red-cheeked from the roused wind,

I’ll stand in the doorway
    stamping my boots and slapping my hands,
        my shoulders
            covered with stars.

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
    but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

The Poet Visits the Museum of Fine Arts

For a long time
    I was not even
        in this world, yet
            every summer

every rose
    opened in perfect sweetness
        and lived
            in gracious repose,

in its own exotic fragrance,
    in its huge willingness to give
        something, from its small self,
            to the entirety of the world.

I think of them, thousands upon thousands,
    in many lands,
        whenever summer came to them,
            rising

out of the patience of patience,
    to leaf and bud and look up
        into the blue sky
            or, with thanks,

into the rain
    that would feed
        their thirsty roots
            latched into the earth—

sandy or hard, Vermont or Arabia,
    what did it matter,
        the answer was simply to rise
            in joyfulness, all their days.

Have I found any better teaching?
    Not ever, not yet.
        Last week I saw my first Botticelli
            and almost fainted,

and if I could I would paint like that
    but am shelved somewhere below, with a few songs
        about roses: teachers, also, of the ways
            toward thanks, and praise.

Musical Notation: 1

The physicality of the religious poets should not
be taken idly. He or she, who loves God, will
look most deeply into His works. Clouds are not
only vapor, but shape, mobility, silky sacks of
nourishing rain. The pear orchard is not
only profit, but a paradise of light. The luna moth,
who lives but a few days, sometimes only a few
hours, has a pale green wing whose rim is like a
musical notation. Have you noticed?

We had a dog once that adored flowers; no mat-
ter how briskly she went through the fields, she
must stop and consider the lilies, tiger lilies, and
other blossoming things along her way. Another
dog of our household loved sunsets and would
run off in the evenings to the most western part
of the shore and sit down on his haunches for
the whole show, that pink and peach colored
swollenness. Then home he would come trot-
ting in the alpenglow, that happy dog.

Ribbon Snake Asleep in the Sun

I come upon him and he is
    startled; he glides
to the rock’s rim; he wheels, setting in motion
    the stripes of his body, yet not going
anywhere. And, though the books say
    it can’t be done, since his eyes are set
too far apart in the narrow skull, I’m not
    lying when I say that he lifts his face and looks

into my eyes and I look back until
    we are both staring hard
at each other. He wants to know
    just where in this bright, blue-faced world
he might be safe. He wants to go on with the
    flow of his life. Then he straightens
his shining back and drops

from the rocks and rockets through
    the tangle of weeds, sliding, as he goes, over
my bare foot. Then it vanishes
    into the shade and the grass, down to
some slubby stream, having
    startled me in return. But this is a
small matter. What I would speak of, rather,
    is the weightless string of his actually soft and
nervous body; the nameless stars of its eyes.

When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention

“As long as we are able to
be extravagant we will be
hugely and damply
extravagant. Then we will drop
foil by foil to the ground. This
is our unalterable task, and we do it
joyfully.”

And they went on. “Listen,
the heart-shackles are not, as you think,
death, illness, pain,
unrequited hope, not loneliness, but

lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,
selfishness.”

Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.

Great Moth Comes from His Papery Cage

Gone is the worm, that tunnel body. Gone is the mouth
    that loved leaves and tomatoes.
Gone are the innumerable feet.

He is beautiful now, and shivers into the air
as if he has always known how,
who crawled and crawled, all summer.
He has wide wings, with a flare at the bottom.
The moon excites him. The heat of the night excites him.

But, where did the dance come from?
Surely not out of a simple winter’s sleep.
Surely it’s more than ambition, this new architecture!
What could it be, that does it?

Let me look closer, and a long time, the next time
I see green-blooded worm crawling and curling
hot day after hot day
among the leaves and the smooth, proud tomatoes.

Swimming with Otter

I am watching otter, how he
    plays in the water, how he
        displays brave underside to the
            wave-washings, how he

breathes in descent trailing sudden
    strings of pearls that tell
        almost, but never quite, where he is
            apt to rise—how he is

gone, gone, so long I despair of him, then he
    trims, wetly, up the far shore and if he
        looks back he is surely
            laughing. I too have taken

my self into this
    summer lake, where the leaves of the trees
        almost touch, where peace comes
            in the generosity of water, and I have

reached out into the loveliness and I have
    floated on my flat back to think out
        a poem or two, not by any means fluid but,
            dear God, as you have made me, my only quickness.

Mozart, for Example

All the quick notes
Mozart didn’t have time to use
before he entered the cloud-boat

are falling now from the beaks
of the finches
that have gathered from the joyous summer

into the hard winter
and, like Mozart, they speak of nothing
but light and delight,

though it is true, the heavy blades of the world
are still pounding underneath.
And this is what you can do too, maybe,

if you live simply and with a lyrical heart
in the cumbered neighborhoods or even,
as Mozart sometimes managed to, in a palace,

offering tune after tune after tune,
making some hard-hearted prince
prudent and kind, just by being happy.

BOOK: Thirst
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