Out of the blue, my son Benjamin blessed me with a random gift. No reason. No ulterior motive. Just the choice between another disc for disc golf or a book. As much as I love losing to my sons weekly (it’s hard to believe that I ever held the family course record for Memorial Park of two under par), I opted for the book. Not just any book, but Mary Oliver’s Devotions, published in 2017. I have only read the selections from Felicity thus far (which, by rhymed extension, makes me think of Wendell Berry’s Fidelity — also a great deepening ground), but already my heart feels refreshed.
My love for the pace, style, subject, and voice of Mary Oliver’s poetry seemingly came too late. She passed away in 2019. She has been in our AP English Literature textbooks for years, but it wasn’t until “The Black Walnut Tree” showed up as the free response poetry question on the 2013 AP exam that I really started to fully appreciate her work. Since then, she’s become one of my most frequent deepening grounds.
This post, therefore, will kick off a week of feasting on the talents of Mary Oliver. If you are like me, you’ll find this first poem more than fitting. My best times of meditation are far from successful and quickly slip into the sweet shade of dreams…
On Meditating, Sort Of – Mary Oliver
Meditation, so I’ve heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?
Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place — half-asleep — where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter —
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.
So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.
Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints —
all that glorious, temporary stuff.
Oliver, Mary. Devotions. Penguin Press, NY: 2017. (pg. 22)