Authors: Mary Oliver
No Voyage and Other Poems
The River Styx, Ohio, and Other Poems
House of Light
New and Selected Poems Volume One
The Leaf and the Cloud
What Do We Know
Owls and Other Fantasies
Why I Wake Early
New and Selected Poems Volume Two
The Night Traveler
Sleeping in the Forest
A Poetry Handbook
Rules for the Dance
Molly Malone Cook
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.”
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
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
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.
There is something
about the snow-laden sky
in the late afternoon
that brings to the heart elation
and the lovely meaninglessness
Whenever I get home—whenever—
somebody loves me there.
I stand in the same dark peace
as any pine tree,
or wander on slowly
like the still unhurried wind,
as for a gift,
for the snow to begin
which it does
at first casually,
Wherever else I live—
in music, in words,
in the fires of the heart,
I abide just as deeply
in this nameless, indivisible place,
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,
covered with stars.
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.”
For a long time
I was not even
in this world, yet
opened in perfect sweetness
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,
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.
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.
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.
“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
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,
Their fragrance all the while rising
from their blind bodies, making me
spin with joy.
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.
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.
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.