“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
This famous quote from Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, is something I think about a lot these days. It’s a poem – a very beautiful one – about paying attention to the small things in the world. Read this poem, and it will slow you right down. It will transport you to a moment in a field: quiet, small, yet full.
In these strange, anxious times, all of Mary Oliver’s poetry does this for me. When my chest feels tight with worry or emotion, I pick up her book, A Thousand Mornings. I read a poem or two and my soul becomes still, calm, and, yes, full. It’s like a spiritual reset. My soul remembers then that yes, there is time and space for noticing. For receiving, even.
Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’ beautiful book, The Lost Spells, is like that too. Between Macfarlane’s poetry and Morris’ illustrations, they share with Oliver an attentiveness and reverence for the natural world. Each line resonates, from those about daisies – “acre upon acre of tiny suns turned skyward” – to gorse – “Each of us is partly made of gorse, of course” – goldfinches – “Falling around you as flecks, as grains, as glitter” – and seals – “Deep fall the fathoms beyond your belief.”
Then there are so many other poets out there, expressing so much of the human experience. Micha Boyett, in her recent newsletter, made me aware of Rilke. Micha’s thoughts around his poem 1.9 have stayed with me in a time when so many voices are crying out against the pain of violence and injustice. As she points out, these lines of Rilke’s are particularly haunting, but hold also a glimmer of hope:
A screaming shattered the voices
That had just come together to speak you,
To make of you a bridge
Over the chasm of everything.
And what they have stammered ever since
Of your ancient name.
Other poetic voices, too, are calling out to the world to take notice and pay attention, to imagine more for our world. Salena Godden, for example, in her poem, Pessimism is for Lightweights, tells us:
“This road was never meant to be easy and straight
And living is all about living alive and lively
And love will conquer hate.”
Words can carry so much hope in a broken world (more on that when I get around to writing about my brother’s new book, Regeneration) but for now, I’m wishing you a very happy World Poetry Day!
(Below – my first attempt at poetry since I was a child!)
There’s lego on the floor
And washing on the rack
Dishes in the sink
Play dough not put back.
These four walls feel shame-filled.
My chest tightens at the thought of
All I haven’t done.
But there’s a song here too
It insists I slow down.
The song calls me lovely
As I am.
The song tells me
“This, this is it!”
(In the best kind of way)
The song tells me
“This, this is your day!”
The song calls me to look
“Be filled,” it says, “and play!”