Fortified by Poetry

This week, I listened to Krista Tippett’s On Being interview with the poet Mary Oliver. Although I was familiar with Mary Oliver’s name, I knew nothing of her poetry other than the often-quoted final lines from The Summer Day:

Mary Oliver ~ Siyan Ren

Unsplash photo, courtesy of Siyan Ren

Having been inspired to seek out her writing and learn more about her, I am astonished that this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet is not more well-known outside of the United States. She turns 80 this year and has received national acclaim within the US. But the network of libraries in my area has just one of her poetry collections, and her books on Amazon’s UK site have only a scattering of reviews.

Unsplash photo, courtesy of Ryan Hutton

Unsplash photo, courtesy of Ryan Hutton

My words cannot do justice to her poems. The analysis of literature is all well and good, and I say this as someone who planned to study English Literature when I was in my teens. Studying a text closely can lead us to new and wonderful insights. But sometimes it’s necessary to put our analytical brains aside and simply absorb the richness of words, to let poetry fill us up and fortify us.

Unsplash photo, courtesy of Alex Jones

Unsplash photo, courtesy of Alex Jones

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And it requires a vision—a faith to use an old-fashioned term. Yes, indeed. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.” ~ Mary Oliver, The Poetry Handbook.

WILD GEESE – Mary Oliver

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”

Are you familiar with Mary Oliver’s writing? I encourage you to share your favourite quotes from poems, whether they are by Mary Oliver or other poets, in the comments.

7 thoughts on “Fortified by Poetry

  1. I just took a look at the posts in my reader this morning- for the first time in a while- and your post was the first thing I read. A bit of poetry was a good way to start my day, so thank you for writing this! I wasn’t really familiar with her poetry, but what you shared here is lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Her name does sound vaguely familiar but embarrassingly, I can’t say I’m familiar with her work. Then again poetry, particularly modern poetry by living poets, is so rarely studied in school that I wouldn’t be surprised if most Americans didn’t know Mary Oliver. I can’t say I’m a big poetry fan myself but I do like Maya Angelou’s a lot. There’s a comic version of Phenomenal Woman that I think you might enjoy reading:

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Looking back at 2015 | Cultural Life

    • I’m glad you enjoyed them. 🙂
      I was inspired to create an English lesson plan based on poetry and haiku, which I taught as one of my CELTA TP lessons last year. I think the students enjoyed it — they wrote some beautiful haiku for the main task. It was a nice, creative way to focus on pronunciation and syllables too.


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