20 February 2013

Wednesday Poem: 'The Summer Day' by Mary Oliver

I'm a bit late for the Tuesday poem, but never mind. And I'm not going to post the poem here (not having permission and all), but I am going to link to it: http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html. I recommend you go read it now, before popping back to read this.

I'm not really familiar with Mary Oliver's poetry, though her name keeps coming up. I discovered this poem yesterday via a post by Helen Lehndorf. Helen had 'written' words from the last line on an apple pie (it's really worth a look), and linked to the poem. It's quite short, so I thought I'd read it.

For me, it didn't start out all that promising. It reminds me at first of a children's prayer or something, and nature poetry - oh nature poetry, I must confess you almost always bore me. But I kept going - it's just a short poem - and then it started picking up for me here:
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
And then it quietly and simply, with this kicker ending, becomes one of my favourite poems ever:
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?

It's an end that could have very easily been a bit twee, and probably would be if it wasn't for that pairing of words from the top of the pie: 'wild and precious', which together in that context are a bit of a surprise, and delightful. They make me feel I could live wildly and preciously, just as she says (and I hope I do). I guess perhaps I should check out more of Mary Oliver's poetry then...

Head on over to the Tuesday Poem blog, where this week's editor Catherine Fitchett shares 'Fault' a poem by Christchurch poet Joanna Preston. It's a really restrained, powerful and very very good poem about the Canterbury Earthquakes: http://tuesdaypoem.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/fault-by-joanna-preston.html.


Emma said...

I love this one purely for the soft animal of your body line: http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/geese/geese.html

Helen Rickerby said...

Nice. I'm getting the feeling that she salvages poems that I'm fearing are heading for lameness with a phrase here and there that just punches you in the gut. But I should read some more before being so definitive about my new theories!

Cattyrox said...

Hi Helen - I agree with you - it narrowly misses twee-ness. The Oliver poem I keep coming back to is Mockingbirds - http://www.panhala.net/archive/Mockingbirds.html. Hope you enjoy this!

Anonymous said...

Yay! Glad you like it, Helen. My favourite MO poem is the one Emma mentions above 'Wild Geese' but I love the whole poem. x

Michelle Elvy said...

Hmmmm. It's on the soft side, yes. And I do like the change of tone here. Thanks for posting this and sharing your thoughts. Made me read it in a different manner.

Helen Rickerby said...

Cattyrox, thanks for the suggestion. I couldn't get your link to work, but found it here: http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/unbound/poetry/atlpoets/oliv9402.htm. I think I like that poem best of all, especially when it gets on to the mythological story, leaving me to try to figure out the connections between the mockingbirds and the story, and then that lovely ending: I was hurrying / through my own soul, / opening its dark doors-- / I was leaning out; / I was listening.

I have enjoyed discovering people's favourite Mary Oliver poems.