Shadow Dancing. Rest in Peace Mary Oliver.
Shadow Dancing. Rest in Peace Mary Oliver.
When Death Comes
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” Carl Sandburg
Last February, when we were celebrating our first Hummingbird Valentine’s Day, we planned a bit of a posting extravaganza. We had a special greeting, commentary, musings, a quote, artwork, and a beautiful love poem by e.e. cummings. We had never posted a poem before and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was the most read post of the day, and in fact it was read continuously for the weeks that followed. So, with that in mind, we invited Contributor Lynda Bernard to introduce a new poem periodically from among her favorites, along with a note about “why” the poem was selected to be featured. Be prepared to be reminded with each selection of the beauty that can be achieved when imagination is invoked and pen is put to paper.
Our first Shadow Dancing Poetry Series Selection was in fact by Mary Oliver. With her passing last week, much is being written about her life and her work.
It is so interesting to learn of Oliver’s incredible popularity as a poet. Yet despite this fact and having won both the National Book Award for Poetry and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, her work was not as widely “critically acclaimed,” as one might expect. Many critics cited a simplicity (I’m not a student of critical analysis of poetry, but I think this might be “code.”); perhaps they were citing a lack of intellectual complexity, the challenge and depth for the reader so to speak. Maybe they did not appreciate her strong ties and consistent references to nature. I am curious about this. I found that the simplicity of her thoughts led to deeper thinking of one’s own, the beauty being that the depth can be determined by the aptitude and propensity of each reader, and accessible to such a wide range of enjoyment. Thus her popularity. I am also curious if perhaps this was a commentary on her roots—Edna St. Vincent Millay, her sexual orientation, her acceptance or lack thereof into the “club.” Regardless, I along with so many others who have enjoyed lines from Mary Oliver’s verses—sometimes not even knowing they were attributable to her—honor her work and her place as a great American poet! I also appreciate her attempt to give us all lessons to live a better life, and I particularly enjoy The New Yorker’s recent tribute to Mary Oliver:
Oliver’s late work can sound like part of a liturgy: “Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude? / Have I endured loneliness with grace?” Such poems turned up in actual liturgies, read from actual pulpits, often: more than one writer has dubbed her “the unofficial poet laureate” of the Unitarian Universalist denomination.
Indeed. Rest in Peace Mary Oliver. 1935-2019
We invite you to continue reading below. It is our first Shadow Dancing Poetry Series Selection, published last April.
by Mary Oliver
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 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.
Why was Wild Geese selected?
I love the intimate feeling of this poem, and the urgency of its message. Oliver expresses what one must do in order to lead a good life: Not worry too much about being good, but rather be true to nature and the beauty found in nature.
Mary Oliver is one of our most beloved poets, and she uses nature imagery in almost all her poems to convey her message. Oliver has won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award for her poems.
We invite your comments about Wild Geese, as well as your recommendations for future selections.