Sunday, January 20, 2019

Mary, Mary–How Does Your Garden Grow?

I did post on here last week about the death of our beloved poet, Mary Oliver. But, I still feel I must give her a more proper tribute.

I thought about going back and figuring out how many of the posts I've written have included a Mary poem, but I will just hypothesize that it's a pretty high ratio.

I remember first befriending Mary Oliver; it was my first year of teaching. A friend gave me a book of poetry with words inspiring for teachers. Obviously Mary featured prominently. Wild Geese, The Journey, The Summer Day–all of these poems would help an educator through the highs and lows of the school year; they certainly did that for me.

But, it was just the beginning. I don't even know which book I bought first...maybe Why I Wake Early. My mentor and I would read her words together, reveling in the sheer beauty of simple diction and deep attentiveness. We'd often say, "How does she do it?" after a healthy pause when finishing a read aloud.

As I was coming into my own appreciation for nature, walking in the Wissahickon Park and sitting at the shores of Lake Erie, Mary was nearly constant company. While my favorite poem has been At the River Clarion for quite some time, I have also been taken by her essay, Winter Hours, since first reading it last year. Here is an excerpt, appropriate to re-read in the immediate days following our own recent storm here in Erie.

Sometimes I think, were I just a little rougher made, I would go altogether to the woods–to my work entirely, and solitude, a few friends, books, my dogs, all things peaceful, ready for meditation and industry–if for no other reason than to escape the heart-jamming damages and discouragements of the world's mean spirits. But, no use. Even the most solitudinous of us is communal by habit, and indeed by commitment to the bravest of dreams, which is to make a moral world. The whirlwind of human behavior is not to be set aside.

I'm not sure any of us will ever be able to write about you, Mary, in the past tense. I'm not sure any of us can count the number of times your poems consoled us. Your words sustain us on our journeys, dear friend. They live on inside so many of us. We are so grateful.

Let us walk in the holy presence.

The current collection, which has grown over time!

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