May 11 – Mary Oliver

Wednesday,  May 11   “One day you finally knew / what you had to do, and began,  / though the voices around you /  kept shouting  / their bad advice”

Readers often introduce me to poets I’d not met, and sometimes re-introduce an already well-known poet with surprise from that poet’s work.  That happened this week.  A soul friend and  list reader wrote on Monday about Joy Harjo’s birthday and the poem “Grace.”  S/he told me about a Mary Oliver poem, new to me, which offered grace during a decision-making moment in her/his life.

“In any case, I do love to read Joy’s poems on your blog, as well as Mary Oliver’s.  I don’t read a great amount of poetry, but I do love both of those poets. And your blog has introduced me to many other amazing poems and poets.  One day I need to tell you of how my mother sent me a poem when I was on a personal retreat – ‘The Journey’ by Mary Oliver – which helped me greatly in my process/decision making then.”

Readers often surprise me with stories about a poem or a poet and stories about insight and decision in the reader’s life.  Sometimes the stories take me back to September 2013 when this list began during some hard times in the city and on campus.  The hard times became an intuition that led to this list, c. 350 posts ago.  The original wording appears at the top of the archive blog where all previous posts appear.  I re-read it now and then to remind me of the origins.    Check it out.

Best to read Mary Oliver out loud, with pauses.


john sj

p.s. Detroit Mercy’s Commencements are this week — Law, Dentistry, McNichols campuses.


Today’s Post “The Journey”

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

Mary Oliver


September 10, 1935

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