Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets
And this is one of my favorite poems:
The Summer Day
By Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
The 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?
Each of her poems is a perfect prayer. Her powers of observation are remarkable and I've often said if I could write poems half as strong as hers I would be a happy poet. Only a poet who spends hours and hours of contemplative time in nature can produce such beautiful imagery and relate it to the universal in a way that touches the hearts of all her readers. I offer you a photo I took recently that reminds me of the detail in Oliver's poems and then an essay I wrote about my favorite poet.
Though I spend my days in a windowless office inhaling recycled air, Nature’s sounds, scents and sights sing to my soul. On weekends and days off I can sit on my front stoop and watch the row of Bradford pear trees change clothes with the seasons, watch the scarlet plumage of the cardinal and hear his screech. I can count the cadre of mourning doves roosted in the bare branched maple tree. And in between those moments of wonder I turn to the poems of Mary Oliver to perk up my senses and give me a dose of fresh air.
My favorite Oliver poem is “The Summer Day.” Oliver’s detailed description of the parts and practices of a single grasshopper, and her unique attention to the instinct, are compared to a moment of prayer. All of Oliver’s poems come from the pen of a woman who clearly has spent hours at a time, still and silent, observing the flora and fauna that live in the natural world of her home. Her attention to detail, and the poems themselves, are prayers she offers me to help me through stale days at work.
It’s the last sentence of “The Summer Day” that thrums in my skin and in my heart. The lines are posted on the wall of my office and at home on my writing desk. I ask myself the question several times a day as I plot and plan a route out of my stagnant office and into Mary Oliver’s world of poetry and the enervating life forces of Mother Nature . . .
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”