Feb 26 2021

Mary Oliver – Spring

Published by at 8:41 am under Poetry

by Mary Oliver

a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her —
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

— from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver

/ Image by Marie Hale /

We have snow on the ground here in Colorado, but spring is coming. You can see it in the brilliant morning sunlight, in the first tentative buds on branches. We are, all of us, beginning to shake off the long hibernation of winter to encounter the world once again, like Mary Oliver’s bear.

The poem evokes for us the image of this black bear, this huge being, “like a black and leafy ledge,” waking from its slumbers and rather roughly encountering the world once again. But that renewed interaction between bear and gravel, grass, and tree is a form a sacrament. It is the embodiment of a questions: how to love this world.

The poem circles back to the poet, her human life filled with creativity and cities…

Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities…

But we sense that the list is incomplete. Something fundamental has been left out of the first part of that list. That connection with nature. No… deeper even than that. Something archetypal. The great primal being within as it awakens and encounters the world.

it is also this dazzling darkness
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

Despite its massive presence, it is silent. Without words. Beyond words.

(The phrase “dazzling darkness” is of particular significance within Western esoteric traditions, tracing back to a poem by the important early Christian mystic Dionysius the Areopagite. I suspect Ms. Oliver used it intentionally to suggest the same mysterious, vast, silent presence.)

all day I think of her -–
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

I have always felt a special connection with the animal world. As a child, for a time I planned to become a veterinarian. I remember often meditating as a boy on the wordlessness of animals. What sort of world do they inhabit without words, without names for things or places or people… or even for themselves? I tried to imagine that world, to enter it with my own wordlessness. Like Mary Oliver’s bear. In our wordlessness, when we stop naming things, we find that we encounter everything more immediately, more fully. When we name a thing or person or experience, we have labeled it, categorized it and, as a result, moved it outside of the realm of direct experience and shunted it safely into a mental idea of the moment, rather than the living moment itself. When we name things through incessant thought, we then encounter our thoughts about the experience and not the actual experience. We end up seeing only reflections of the mind and forget how to see the world as it is.

Mary Oliver’s bear reminds us to let that great black bear rise from its sleep and encounter the world in its wordlessness. This is how we can begin to answer the “only one question: how to love this world.” We embody perfect love when we are truly present in our dazzling silence and not elsewhere in our words and thoughts. Love is connection, contact, encountering a person or place as it is, as we are. Love is being right here.

Have a beautiful day, one of wordless spring awakening!

Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

New and Selected Poems Why I Wake Early Dream Work House of Light Thirst: Poems
More Books >>

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

US (1935 – 2019) Timeline
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

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Mary Oliver – Spring”

  1. Anna M.on 26 Feb 2021 at 9:34 am

    Dear Ivan,

    I am sitting here, enjoyed reading Mari Oliver’s “Spring” and your fresh commentary…

    and smiled…and smiled…joyfully about the synchronicity of the moment…

    it seems we all are really, really connected already on all levels…:)

    Some hours ago, may be 2 or 3, I felt such a joyful spring smell, outer and inner, here

    is really spring, unusual warm, remembered about Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” music,

    listened it and a thought arose spontaneously

    “I should share this spring joy with Ivan”…and

    suddenly later your “Spring” poem appeared…

    …like you have had heard my though…

    wow….isn’t that amazing! 🙂

    Did you know that the music of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is based on four poems written by Antonio Vivaldi?

    In the music, each “Season” consists of a three-movement concerto. Two quick-tempo outer movements frame a central slow-tempo movement. The sonnets included in the score provide a specific description of each movement.

    Enjoy the spring, the music and the poetry… and thank you!


  2. Anna M.on 26 Feb 2021 at 9:39 am

    P.S. I forgot to add English version of the poem “Spring” from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”

    Spring – Concerto in E Major

    Springtime is upon us.
    The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
    and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
    Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar, casting their dark mantle over heaven,
    Then they die away to silence, and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

    On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.

    Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes, nymphs and shepherds lightly dance beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

  3. Surendran Krishnanon 26 Feb 2021 at 7:39 pm

    Very true you name it, brand it….you create boundaries

  4. Nasseron 01 Mar 2021 at 1:03 am

    Dear Ivan,
    I have always admired your profound deep feel and sensation of beauty and love. During last decade or so, I have enjoyed reading your timely selection of poetry like this one of Mary Oliver. In my country Iran, we are experiencing the same lovely feeling of revitalization and hope for a better brilliant future.

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