Nov 05 2021

Mary Oliver – Mindful

Published by at 7:18 am under Poetry

Mindful
by Mary Oliver

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.
            It was what I was born for —
                  to look, to listen,

to lose myself
      inside this soft world —
            to instruct myself
                  over and over

in joy,
      and acclamation.
            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!


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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One Response to “Mary Oliver – Mindful”

  1. Carolon 06 Nov 2021 at 6:37 am

    So thankful to receive Poetry Chaikhana this week. Mary Oliver’s poetry has long
    been a favorite and this poem clearly brings to us, a way through these fearful,
    dreadful, and extravagant times we are living in. Thank You,Ivan

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