In January of this year, Mary Oliver, the much loved American poet, passed away. I stumbled across the news of her death on the internet a few weeks back. It stopped me dead in my tracks and and I noticed first the shock… and then sadness wash over me like a wave as I sat there staring at my computer in slight disbelief. It felt hard to imagine a world without Mary Oliver in it.
No one opened me up to life and death in quite the same way as Mary Oliver and although I never met her, I have felt the comfort and companionship of her poems so deeply and constantly through my years, her words calling me back towards the wonder, mystery and sacredness of life, again and again.
Mary Oliver’s poems convey such a deep aliveness and attention to the world, inner and outer. Her words are simple yet profound in their ability to gently reconnect us to the preciousness, beauty and wonder of our world, and at the same time wake us up to the fact our lives are not forever, and are to be cherished and loved.
At some point in my early twenties I felt moved to write to her to say thank you and let her know how her poetry had impacted my life, I guess you could call it fan mail! I remember how it tickled me to imagine that exact card would be opened by Mary Oliver’s very own hands and read by her very own eyes. That somehow these words of gratitude that had come from deep in my heart might somehow touch hers.
So thank you Mary Oliver for bringing us back to a sense of the preciousness of life and of our belonging in this world… for touching our hearts and minds with your poems.
It still surprises me having enjoyed so many of her poems that I can still stumble across one that I’ve never read before and that touch me so deeply. Here’s one of them….
in the fields
I lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
I don’t know
how it happened—
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery,
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt myself so near
that porous line
where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers