More than any other poet, Mary Oliver keeps appearing in these postings. I admire her practice of doing nothing but walk in the woods each day to renew her membership in the Grand Mystery mixed with her unflagging determination to tell us about it through the hard work of crafting poems and getting them published. In her late 70’s, she still keeps cranking them out, some 30 books of poetry saying the same thing a thousand different ways.
In her most recent one, Evidence, I feel her awareness of mortality stepped up a notch. She opens one poem:
“Summer begins again.
Do I still have?…
How did it come to be
that I am no longer young
and the world
that keeps time
in its own way
has just been born?…”
In still another:
“ I have walked in these woods for
more than forty years, and I am the only
thing, it seems, that is about to be used up…”
Well, no surprise for a poet. Next to love, mortality is probably the number one theme of poems ranging from ancient China to Shakespeare (…but sad mortality overtake their power…”) to Hayden Carruth. But creeping up the numbers myself, I’m paying sharp attention to her solutions. Which are simple, elegant and the only possibility:
“…the holiest of laws
Until you are not.”
“…as for myself, I keep walking, thinking
once more I am grateful
to be present.”
“…I’m still here, alive!”
Last night, I watched a 40-minute slide show celebrating the life of one of my wife’s old friends, from her babyhood to her untimely death at 64. Such a mixture of joy in photo after photo of her smiling face and the unfolding arc of her life from baby to young woman to mother to elder, complete with a varied soundtrack, and grief that it ended so soon by today’s standards. But numbers are not the main measurement of a life well-lived and why not celebrate the miracle that she was here and lived deeply and left her mark?
And so I awake to another day thinking, “I’m still here, alive!” and prepare to make merry music with children, my own version of the morning walk in the woods and this blog my way to share my gratitude that I’m present to witness the day’s glory. Onward!