A Tribute to Mary Oliver

9/10/35 – 1/17/19

Recently my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, passed away. With her she took a light that illuminated the beauty of nature, an eloquence to describe the human condition and insights into the spirit. Luckily, she left behind so much beauty of her own. I can’t describe how sad I feel knowing that her words have stopped flowing here on Earth, though I treasure each one she gifted to us while here. I wanted to offer my gratitude for her and her words by sharing a few of my favorites.

Her work not only inspired me with its beauty and insights, but also because there was such a mindfulness to her poems. I don’t think she could have captured the moments she did in nature without having been fully present in those moments. That’s one of the things I love about her work – that feeling of being present. She was so aware of the moment that she was able to capture it in words that draw me into that experience with her, as if we are standing there together. My friend Amy asked me one time to share a favorite stanza from one of Mary Oliver’s poems. I chose this one from “It Was Early”:

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.

Amy then gifted me a creation of her own that incorporated the stanza. I get to look at it every morning as I start my day. For me, that simple statement is a wonderful example of how to live mindfully.

Mary wrote a poem titled “Mindful” that is another that I love. Her way of expressing the joy of being fully present is something that always speaks to me in her poems.

I see or hear
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?

Mary Oliver also had the ability to embrace the mysteries of life through her words with joy and reverence, as in this excerpt from “Mysteries, Yes”:

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood…

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

“When I Am Among the Trees” is another favorite of mine. As Parker Palmer says, “One of the many things I love about Mary Oliver’s poetry is that she faces squarely into the complexity of our lives on “this side” of things – and then points us toward the simplicity that lies on the other side of our confusions and illusions.”

Her poems moved and inspired me in so many ways. She could share such heart-breaking thoughts and images with such simplicity. “At the Pond” is one of the poems that makes my heart ache each time I reach the end. It’s so true, and sad and beautiful.

There is a poem of hers called “I Want to Write Something So Simply” where she speaks of wanting to share something so honest that you will feel it – not just feel it, but feel like the words came from you. It ends like this:

you will think –
no, you will realize –
that it was all the while
yourself arranging the words,
that it was all the time
words that you yourself,
out of your own heart
had been saying.

That’s the way I always feel about her poems, like the words move through my own heart.

There are so many other wonderful poems of hers that you are probably familiar with like “Wild Geese” or “The Summer Day.” If you haven’t read her work, I would invite you to pick up a copy of one of her books and bask in the light she shared. You can also listen to her read on one of her two CDs. I had the pleasure of hearing her read in person. I am so grateful that I had that opportunity to be in her presence as her words moved through my heart. I will be forever grateful for the gifts they left behind there, which I will carry within my heart always.

Lynda Allen is first and foremost a listener. All of her work whether it's writing, art, creating Animal Wisdom Journals or leading meditation begins with deep listening. Lynda listens to her own inner knowing and wisdom, the natural world and the still, small voice of the Divine in the silence. She listens. Then she creates. In all of her creations she strives to inspire others to open their hearts and embrace their journey, both the dark and the light, with gentleness, love and joy. Her new collection of poetry and essays "Grace Reflected" is now available. You can learn more about the many offerings of Lynda’s heart at her website.

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