Nov 05 2021
by Mary Oliver
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
— from Why I Wake Early, by Mary Oliver
/ Image by Kristopher Roller /
I’m back. Thank you, everyone, for your patience. It has been a few weeks since the last Poetry Chaikhana email. A busy time with my day job and helping my wife with some important projects. Mary Oliver seems a good poet to welcome us back…
Every so often I come across a poem by Mary Oliver I haven’t read in a few years, and rereading it I get to say, “Wow!” once again.
Read this poem a few times. Each statement rings in the air.
Sometimes I can appreciate a poem more fully when I read it as if the line breaks weren’t there, allowing me to really take in the meaning and imagery (then, when I reread with awareness of the line breaks once again, I can insert the sense of rhythm and stillness they imply)…
Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight…
that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.
That phrase to be killed with delight startles us. It is disturbing and yet somehow joyful. I take it to mean that we are so swept away with delight that the normal functioning of the self and our constant concerns all comes to a halt. We disappear in the midst of the beautiful moment.
Notice, by the way, how I have reshaped the line breaks here so you don’t miss the rhyme in the middle of the second and third sections? Worth saying out loud to appreciate it.
It was what I was born for — to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world —
That’s such a great line, isn’t it? “To lose myself inside this soft world.”
to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation.
There is a fundamental delight to the encounters and experiences of each day — but we must continuously “instruct” ourselves in it. Each time we recognize that joy, we are learning. The opposite is also true: each time we ignore it, we are forgetting.
Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant — but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations.
I think this is the poem’s true epiphany. The delight she speaks of, the magic in the day, is not discovered through having some sort of extraordinary experience. It is, surprisingly, in “the ordinary, the common,” the eventless moments.
How do we see? The title tells us — through being mindful. Through paying attention. Through stillness of mind, accompanied by relaxed, open awareness. It is then that the day’s delight reveals itself and we come to see even the most mundane moment for the immense landscape it truly is.
Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these —
The day is teaching us. Are we being a good scholar? Are we paying attention to the lessons in awareness presented to us each day? Are we drinking in the joy given to us? It is there, when we are mindful:
the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of grass?
Have a beautiful day, noticing the untrimmable light of the world!
|New and Selected Poems||Why I Wake Early||Dream Work||House of Light||Thirst: Poems|
|More Books >>|
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.