Death of An American Poet

This past week, I learned about the death of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver. I had just been introduced to her work via the infamous poem Wild Geese, which had been read at silent retreats and yoga sessions I’ve attended.  Poetry has re-entered my life in recent years, particularly with the assistance of the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett.  Krista interweaves conversations about our daily spiritual lives through talking with astrophysicists, monks, priests, psychologists, politicians, poets, and numerous other professions.

Listening to poets share their reflections in interviews is such a beautiful experience.  Their language is full of metaphors.  They have the ability to capture themes that seem unspeakable and relay the messages into bite size bits for us to chomp on.

In tribute to Mary Oliver, On Being replayed an interview with her from several years ago.  Throughout the interview, Mary was asked to read several of her poems. This poem below, I Happen To Be Standing, I couldn’t help but listen to again and again.   Witnessing the interview felt like prayer.  I was driving as I was listening, but if I was at home perhaps I would have knelt down to the ground as I took in the rest of the interview.  Perhaps the prayer vibe will arise in you as you take it all in from the link below:

“I don’t know where prayers go, / or what they do. / Do cats pray, while they sleep /      half-asleep in the sun? / Does the opossum pray as it / crosses the street? / The sunflowers? The old black oak / growing older every year? / I know I can walk through the world, / along the shore or under the trees, / with my mind filled with things / of little importance, in full / self-attendance. A condition I can’t really / call being alive. / Is a prayer a gift, or a petition, /         or does it matter? / The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way. / Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not. / While I was thinking this I happened to be standing / just outside my door, with my notebook open, / which is the way I begin every morning. / Then a wren in the privet began to sing. / He was positively drenched in enthusiasm, / I don’t know why. And yet, why not. / I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe / or whatever you don’t. That’s your business. / But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be / if it isn’t a prayer? / So I just listened, my pen in the air.”



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