Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?

by Mary Oliver


Original Language English

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives --
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself
continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left --
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one's foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!

To set one's foot in the door of death, and be overcome
with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine
god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,
nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the
present hour,
to the song falling out of the mockingbird's pink mouth,
to the tippets of the honeysuckle, that have opened

in the night

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,

and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns and said
to the wild roses:
deny me not,
     but suffer my devotion.
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or tow of music, damp and rouge red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate watery bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters,
caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what's coming next
is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things,
upon the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daises,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn't ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, I follow the ocean's edge.

I climb, I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

-- from West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems, by Mary Oliver

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/ Photo by Torpe /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I thought this poem by Mary Oliver is a good reminder to us why we need to number ourselves among the courageous souls pushing for substantive agreements in the climate talks in Copenhagen.

This poem speaks to us on so many levels, and it is telling us that the living world of nature does so as well. Trees and fields, flowers and stones, they embody the outer world, yes, but they are also the doorway to the inner. The natural world is the doorway to ourselves.

Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?


We've trained ourselves to glance and not see. But that is precisely the purpose of the human soul, to deeply witness. Anything less, anything too busy to see, becomes mere existence.

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window...


And that leaves us terribly bereft, living in a world devoid of depth, alienated from our own purpose and true selves...

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!


The solution is to slow, to stop, to look, and finally to see. Seeing, we connect -- with each other, and with the earth, the earth and her multiform mystery.

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

To put one's foot into the door of the grass, which is
the mystery, which is death as well as life, and
not be afraid!


The process of being an individual trying to find a place in the human world can be exhausting, but we can never forget that we must first find a place in the community of life upon the earth. The human endeavor, rich and tragic and wonderful, loses its meaning -- and its ability to continue -- when separated from its larger family of living beings and its mysterious mother, the living earth.

I ramble my way home.



Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light American Primitive What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems
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Have You Ever Tried