I have loved Mary Oliver’s poems ever since Michael introduced me to them. Provocative, sensual and rich in nature, they easily pull my mind back to the earth and so to endless nourishment.
Last year Michael and I went to L.A. to hear Mary Oliver speak at UCLA. The auditorium spilled into the aisles, complete with students, business people and even some movie stars. Together we entered an alternate realm, woven by Mary Oliver’s magic and mystery. Every move was deliberate – from her slow entry to the podium, her choice of poems, her comments to the audience. She was stillness in action, like the hummingbird, and we responded as one, in sighs, laughter or utter silence.
Today, almost a year later, I still remember the lilt of her voice and the depth of her poems. So now I offer two of them to you. May they fill your soul with breath and wonder as they do mine.
Count the Roses
Count the roses, red and fluttering.
Count the roses, wrinkle and salt.
Each with its yellow lint at the center.
Each with its honey pooled and ready.
Do you have a question that can’t be answered?
Do the stars frighten you by their heaviness
and their endless number?
Does it bother you, that mercy is so difficult to
For some souls it’s easy; they lie down on the sand and are soon asleep.
For others, the mind shivers in its glacial palace,
and won’t come.
Yes, the mind takes a long time, is otherwise occupied
than by happiness, and deep breathing.
Now, in the distance, some bird is singing.
And now I have gathered six or seven deep red,
half-opened cups of petals between my hands,
And now I have put my face against them
And now I am moving my face back and forth, slowly,
The body is not much more than two feet and a tongue.
Come to me, says the blue sky, and say the word.
And finally even the mind comes running, like a wild thing,
and lies down in the sand.
Eternity is not later, or in any unfindable place.
Roses, roses, roses, roses.
from Blue Iris by Mary Oliver
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.
from Owls and Other Fantasies by Mary Oliver