Category Archives: Poetry

Mary Oliver

I first became acquainted with the work of Mary Oliver when I was in the formation process for United Methodist clergy.  Her poetry spoke in ways that touched something inside of me. She passed away on January 17 . I would like to share with you a few of my favorites.

Mary-Oliver

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

WILD GEESE

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

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The Summer Ends

This seemed like an appropriate poem to share today. Wendell Berry is one of my favorites.

wendellberry

Wendell Berry

The summer ends, and it is time
To face another way. Our theme
Reversed, we harvest the last row
To store against the cold, undo
The garden that will be undone.
We grieve under the weakened sun
To see all earth’s green fountains dried,
And fallen all the works of light.
You do not speak, and I regret
This downfall of the good we sought
As though the fault were mine. I bring
The plow to turn the shattering
Leaves and bent stems into the dark,
From which they may return. At work,
I see you leaving our bright land,
The last cut flowers in your hand.

—-Wendell Berry

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Caedmon’s Hymn

From a MS of Caedmon's Hymn. Bodleian Library, Oxford. Illustration for English Literature by Richard Garnett and Edmund Gosse (Heinemann, 1903).

The story of Cain from the Caedmon manuscript.

Caedmon was an Anglo-Saxon who cared for the animals at Whitby Abbey. He was ignorant of the “art of song”, but according to the 8th Century monk Bede, he learned to compose one night in a dream sent to him by God. He later joined the Abbey and became an inspirational poet. Today I share his surviving work – Caedmon’s Hymn.

 

Caedmon’s Hymn

Now we must honor the guardian of heaven,

the might of the architect, and his purpose,

the work of the father of glory

as he, the eternal lord, established the beginning of wonders;

he first created for the children of men

heaven as a roof, the holy creator

Then the guardian of mankind,

the eternal lord, afterwards appointed the middle earth,

the lands for men, the Lord almighty.

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An Easter Poem

The day of resurrection?empty tomb
Earth, tell it out abroad;
The Passover of gladness,
The Passover of God.
From death to life eternal,
From this world to the sky,
Our Christ hath brought us over
With hymns of victory.

Now let the heavens be joyful,
Let earth her song begin;
Let the round world keep triumph,
And all that is therein;
Let all things seen and unseen
Their notes in gladness blend,
For Christ the Lord hath risen,
Our Joy that hath no end.

——John of Damascus

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Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?

 

Don’t call this world adorable, or useful, that’s not it.

It’s frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds.

The eyelash of lightning is neither good nor evil.

The struck tree burns like a pillar of gold.

 

But the blue rain sinks, straight to the white

feet of the trees

whose mouths open

Doesn’t the wind, turning in circles, invent the dance?

Haven’t the flowers moved, slowly, across Asia, then Europe,

until at last, now, they shine

in your own yard?

 

Don’t call this world an explanation, or even an education.

 

When the Sufi poet whirled, was he looking

outward, to the mountains so solidly there

in a white-capped ring, or was he looking

to the center of everything: the seed, the egg, the idea

that was also there,

beautiful as a thumb

curved and touching the finger, tenderly,

little love-ring,

 

as he whirled,

oh jug of breath,

in the garden of dust?

——Mary Oliver

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Reading the Letters of the Dead

I came across this fascinating and thoughtful poem. I hope it probes your mind as it did to mind.

Why were the dead so timid while
they lived? In mind, they step in

groans; toes en pointe to test the sand.
Despite traversing seas and rushing

gold—they still seem cautious
to a madness. Why did they not act

more like us? I kid. Still, why were
the dead so timid while they lived?

—-Jennifer Hecht

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Morning Glories

Blue and dark-blue

Morning Glories

Morning Glories 

 

rose and deepest rose
white and pink they

are everywhere in the diligent
cornfield rising and swaying
in their reliable

finery in the little
fling of their bodies their
gear and tackle

all caught up in the cornstalks.
The reaper’s story is the story
of endless work of

work careful and heavy but the
reaper cannot
separate them out there they

are in the story of his life
bright random useless
year after year

taken with the serious tons
weeds without value
humorous beautiful weeds.

——Mary Oliver

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Simple Gifts

English: portrait of Shaker Elder Joseph Brack...

Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. (1797-1882)


‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free

‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gain’d,

To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,

To turn, turn will be our delight,

Till by turning, turning we come ’round right

“Simple Gifts” was written by Elder Joseph while he was at the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine. 

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Living Flame of Love

O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center! Since now you are not oppressive, now consummate! if it be your will: tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

 

English: Saint John of the Cross, portrait

O sweet cautery, O delightful wound! O gentle hand! O delicate touch that tastes of eternal life and pays every debt! In killing you changed death to life.

 

O lamps of fire! in whose splendors the deep caverns of feeling, once obscure and blind, now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely, both warmth and light to their Beloved.

 

How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone; and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory, how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

——- John of the Cross

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Fall Song

English: Falmer Pond Large village pond betwee...

Another year gone, leaving everywhere

its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries – – -roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay – – – how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

– Mary Oliver

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