Dec 16 2009

Mary Oliver – Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?

Published by at 10:45 am under Poetry

Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?
by Mary Oliver

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


/ Photo by Torpe /

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.

Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Mary Oliver

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Mary Oliver was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1935.

As a young writer, Mary Oliver was influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay and, in fact, as a teenager briefly lived in the home of the recently deceased Millay, helping to organize Millay’s papers.

Mary Oliver attended college at Ohio State University, and later at Vassar College.

Mary Oliver’s poetry is deeply aware of the natural world, particularly the birds and trees and ponds of her adopted state of Massachusetts.

Her collection of poetry “American Primitive” won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984.

More poetry by Mary Oliver

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Mary Oliver – Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?”

  1. […] December 17, 2009 at 2:10 am (Pagany Musings) Taken from Poetry Chaikana Blog: […]

  2. aparnaon 16 Dec 2009 at 11:32 pm

    O Ivan!!!!!! This has been my favourite favourite poem ever!!!!!!!! Ever since i first saw Mary Oliver!! I’ve virtually LIVED on the lines of this poem for yearrrrssss!!! I totally love you for posting this… (takes a bow!!)…… and let me not go on repeating these lines which touch me….. for i’ll keep on stuttering till evening, and still not be able to stay enough!!!
    I just simply totally overwhelmingly LOVE Mary Oliver!!!!!!!!!!!
    Ty

  3. twilaon 17 Dec 2009 at 8:31 am

    This one is a favorite. I love the lines..

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

    and this one…

    “that was then, which hasn’t ended yet.”

  4. Rena Navonon 20 Dec 2009 at 11:40 am

    On the way to a poetry workshop on Mt. Carmel, Haifa I met a clergyman. When he heard I was up to poetry that day, he told me his favorite poet was Mary Oliver and when I pulled out a book of her poems, he told me what his favorites were. A Rabbi joined him and during the one moment the three of us stood together before they climbed on the bus, we felt a unique sense of religious unity and cultural purpose. When asked later to write a ballad, I did so without a stop, rhythmically describing that prestigious encounter–the high point of my day– that couldn’t have happened without Mary.

  5. Sharonon 28 Dec 2009 at 7:39 am

    Good Morning Ivan and all,
    What a beautiful poem to read just days after Christmas when one is reflecting on the events of the days past, on the sorrows of family not seen and memories gone by. It is a wonderful reminder of the importance of living in the moment, creating new memories to add to the bucket and enjoying the essence of the day, today! It’s so easy to get caught up in the past and project into the future that we fail to enjoy the present. That we forget to breath.
    Thank you Mary for that reminder and thank you Ivan for the many blessings I’ve received since joining the Poetry Chiakana. Many Blessings to you all now and in the coming year.

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