In Honor of Mary Oliver

In Honor of Mary Oliver

By Miriam R. Kramer

“If I have any lasting worth, it will be because I have tried to make people remember what the Earth is meant to look like.” As this issue goes to press, the beloved poet Mary Oliver has passed away at age 83. Winner of the National Book Award in 1984 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, she quietly reigned as the bestselling living poet in the American pantheon. Her clear language and sense of the sublime in ordinary things touched devoted readers. Having grown up sexually abused in a dysfunctional family, she found stability and long-time happiness in both love and writing.

Oliver cared passionately about the natural world and drew great pleasure from the beautiful flora and fauna she transfigured into words. She adored dogs in particular. In her honor and for Valentine’s Day, several poems from a recent collection, Felicity, are listed below. I dedicate this column to Genie Rosebrock, a long-time Old Town resident and English teacher who introduced me to Oliver’s works.

“The First Day”

After you left

I jumped up and down,

I clapped my hands,

I stared into space.

In those days I was starving for happiness

So, say it was both silly and serious.

Say it was the first warm sting of possibility

Say I sensed the spreading warmth of joy.

“What This Is Not”

This is not just surprise and pleasure.

This is not just beauty sometimes

    too hot to touch.

This is not a blessing with a beginning

    and an end.

This is not just a wild summer.

This is not conditional.

“Everything That Was Broken”

Everything that was broken has

forgotten its brokenness. I live

now in a sky-house, through every

window the sun. Also your presence.

Our touching, our stories. Earthy

and holy both. How can this be, but

it is. Every day has something in

it whose name is Forever.

“This and That”

In this early dancing of a new day—

dogs leaping on the beach,

dolphins leaping not far from shore—

someone is bending over me,

is kissing me slowly.

“Except for the Body”

Except for the body

of someone you love

including all its expressions

in privacy and in public,

trees, I think,

are the most beautiful

forms on the earth.

Though admittedly,

if this were a contest,

the trees would come in

An extremely distant second.

“Late Spring”

Finally the world is beginning

to change, its fevers mounting,

its leaves unfolding.

And the mockingbirds find

ample reason and breath to fashion

new songs. They do. You can

count on it.

As for lovers, they are discovering

New ways to love. Listen, their windows are open.

You can hear them laughing.

Without spring who knows what would happen.

A lot of nothing, I suppose.

The leaves are all in motion now

the way a young boy rows and rows

in his wooden boat, just to get anywhere.

Late, late, but now lovely and lovelier.

And the two of us, together—a part of it.

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