Community Conversations

Reflections on Mary Oliver

When the poet Mary Oliver died on January 17, there were a few inspiring days on which many people’s news feed was lit up with friends quoting her poems and paying tribute to this poet who had inspired so many to take the time to notice the world around them with quiet generosity. We want to continue that connection and plan to host an event paying tribute to her impact on our lives and work. An announcement of that event will be coming soon. In the meantime, we invite you to share your thoughts and comments through this first of our Community Conversations.

Karen Kuchar, a writer and poet who serves on our Anawim board, writes:

Mary Oliver is a special poet who believed poetry “mustn’t be fancy”.  I love her work for its accessibility, picture-perfect images of nature, and her links to a deeper truth.  She has been an inspiration to me as a poet and a spiritual guide.  Often people think poetry is too hard to understand, but through her “not fancy” writing, Mary taught us all that poetry can be beautiful, deep, and understandable.  Her memory lives on in so many wonderful poems that have illuminated nature as filled with a deeper presence.

Mary Oliver’s poems speak directly to the intersection of art and spirituality.

Whistling Swans

Do you bow your head when you pray or do you look
up into that blue space?
Take your choice, prayers fly from all directions.
And don’t worry about what language you use,
God no doubt understands them all.
Even when the swans are flying north and making
such a ruckus of noise, God is surely listening
and understanding.
Rumi said, There is no proof of the soul.
But isn’t the return of spring and how it
springs up in our hearts a pretty good hint?
Yes, I know, God’s silence never breaks, but is
that really a problem?
There are thousands of voices, after all.
And furthermore, don’t you imagine (I just suggest it)
that the swans know as much as we do about
the whole business?
So listen to them and watch them, singing as they fly.
Take from it what you can.

from Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

To listen to a rare interview with Mary Oliver go to Mary Oliver – On Being Interview

To read or listen to her obituary on NPR  go to NPR on Mary Oliver