One of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver, passed away yesterday at age 83 from lymphoma. Her poems have a way of speaking to the deepest truths inside of you, in a way that makes you dream, burst with joy, and sometimes makes you reflect with sadness. She didn’t have an easy life – she grew up in Ohio in a dysfunctional family where she was neglected and suffered from sexual abuse. Because of that, she created her own world within her head where she could escape from the suffering and imagine and dream. Her poems are a result of that internal world. Each one is beautiful, heartfelt, and also easily accessible to readers. She doesn’t try to impress you with her fancy words and line breaks like many modern day poets; she writes as one human being speaking to another, and she does it so incredibly well.

Mary said that a lot of her ideas for her poems came from her long walks in nature. She often wrote about nature, where she found much solace and inspiration. Here is one of those poems, called The Summer Day.

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Don’t you love how you can just picture it? The grasshopper that has catapulted itself out of the grass, her jaws moving back and forth, and huge eyes searching around her. And that idea of wanting to cling to all that is beautiful in life, and never let it go.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary’s poems remind you that life is so short, and we must honour it and fill its days with things that brings us joy. Life may not be easy, but whoever said anything worth it was easy?

She says that her work was “infused by a deep spirituality”. Even at age 83, I feel as though we lost her too soon. In her poem “When Death Comes” she reflects on death and what it means to live a good life.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver, 1935-2019

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