I came to know the work of Mary Oliver BECAUSE I entered a Unitarian-Universalist community. I had never heard of her before ten years ago. What a loss of time, and yet, I tend to think as the Buddhists say that when all the conditions are right a thing manifests. And so, ten years ago, all the conditions were right. I don’t think you can own too many of her books of poems. When I pick up one of the volumes that my family have systematically given me over years of birthdays, Christmases and Father’s Days, I cannot just read one. Each one becomes a journey down a road that invariably leads to a grove.
One of my favorite volumes is the one titled Thirst. She wrote it after the death of her partner of forty years, Molly Malone Cook, to whom the book is dedicated. There is a sense in which each poem is a trip into a grove somewhere, into contact with nature where the poet brings all that she has–and often that is grief and sorrow, loss and heaviness. With those as her only “gifts” she encounters the Wildness of nature where trees breathe light on her, where rose petals speak to her of extravagance, where she comes to know in the deepest way of the thirst in her life that only the Wild Ones can fill. From the first page of that work comes this poem, itself a journey into The Grove:
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird– equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is that we live forever.
from Thirst, by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006