Rest in peace, Mary Oliver

I have no idea how it happened, but the poet Mary Oliver died last week and I didn’t find out until today. Oliver wrote nature-heavy self-carey type stuff that I generally avoid these days, but it’s beautiful and merits another look. I read her work obsessively when I was in high school after an English assignment to read one of her poems – possibly this one, my favorite:

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.

What’s funny is that I don’t think I fully understood it until now. That happens a lot with books I read in high school. Fifteen-year-old-me related it to my Teenage Angst, and it fueled so much bad poetry. I’m glad I threw most of (all of?) that away.

Anyway, it appears to be high time I dive back in and read a collection or two. There’s a good chance I have one at home from twenty years ago.

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