Mary Oliver, Your Voice Will Be Missed

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Mary Oliver, who recently passed away, was our country’s best selling poet. Like many of you, I’ve been reading and internalizing her work for years. Although she writes mostly about nature, humanity, and life, she is a mystical poet who writes in an approachable format. In the same way that she herself patiently approached nature, in the same way that she knew how to peacefully approach an animal in a marsh or in the forest, she approached her readers. She created bridges between the natural world and the spiritual, and her poems create bridges between her readers and something inside of themselves which they know to be true even if they had never articulated it before.

Upon her passing, I reflect and realize how profoundly she has influenced my life. One of the reasons I just wrote a book of poetry was because of how inspired I am by her observations on the natural world. I was envious of the time she spent making observations in natural landscapes. I also knew that her affable poems spoke deeply to me, but that my home, my New York City environment, is so different than the setting for her poems. So I tried to take her lead, and I spent a year looking at nature like a mirror that I can reflect life upon, and writing poems which are approachable.

The most important thing I have learned from Mary Oliver is this: When you approach something new, something that scares you a little, something complex, something that may not follow predictable rules — you come face to face with life. This is the intersection she encouraged. This is the world her poems awaken us to live in. Her voice will surely be missed.

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

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 voices 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 you could save.

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