April 28 — Mary Oliver, “Early Morning, My Birthday”

Monday April 28 “The world’s otherness is antidote to confusion”

A Jesuit friend, Bill Pauly, who died young in 2006 (heart attack), gave me Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Vol 1 in 2004 when I drove to Santa Clara CA for sabbatical after 3 years as interim dean of Liberal Arts & Education. Knowing that I had not embraced Mary Oliver’s poetry despite his advising, he wrote on the title page: “This is your one required reading for your sabbatical. Enjoy.” Here I am, eight years later wanting a message board to where Bill is, telling him that I’ve finally gotten his point. Today is the 7th Mary O post to the list. I must like her.

It’s a good poem for the last day of final exams on the McNichols Campus: “. . . . I do not want anymore to be useful . . . to lead children . . . into the text of civility, to teach them that they are (they are not) better than the grass.” She reminds me of a prayer I learned 40 + years ago on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation. If I stand still, still enough and long enough, I can hear the sound a cottonwood makes, and a different sound of grass growing beneath my feet. The stillness and the listening help me to be where I stand and walk upon the earth.

It helps to read a poem out loud, several times.

Have a good day.

john st sj

Today’s post: “Early Morning, My Birthday”

The snails on the pink sleds of their bodies are moving
among the morning glories.
The spider is asleep among the red thumbs
of the raspberries.
What shall I do, what shall I do?

The rain is slow
The little birds are alive in it.
Even the beetles.
The green leaves lap it up.
What shall I do, what shall I do?

The wasp sits on the porch in her paper castle.
The blue heron floats out of the clouds.
The fish leaps, all rainbow and mouth, from the dark water.

This morning the water lilies are no less lovely, I think,
than the lilies of Monet.
And I do not want anymore to be useful, to be docile, to lead
children out of the fields into the text
of civility, to teach them that they are (they are not) better
than the grass.

Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 (1992)


“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything – other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion – that standing within this otherness – the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books – can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.”


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