Morning Poem

Calla Lillies

My second reading is now up on pō-ĭ-trē, Hema Manika’s poetry audio-blog. I read Mary Oliver’s beautiful and hopeful “Morning Poem,” from her 1986 collection, Dream Work.

Here’s the text of the poem:

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

Here are my notes on the poem, which Hema also asks of her readers:

Mary Oliver is just about the last poet I would expect to adore. Her not-quite-wilderness nature themes and breast-swelling cadences feel so uncomfortably New England to this Californian – it is as if the ghost of Robert Frost were cursing a whole new generation of poetry readers. But that is precisely the thing: as loathsomely lyrical as Frost’s poems are, many of them are also (shit, I really hate to say it!) excellent. It’s like craving Patty Smyth, but always setting your iPod to Schubert.

So I confess: Mary Oliver is the bomb.

And among her many lovely, unerringly true poems, “Morning Poem”, from her 1986 collection, Dream Work, has always been my favorite. It affirms that our lives are things of beauty and instruments of joy. It also acknowledges that many people are blind to the world’s grace; but it does so in a way which neither faults, nor patronizes those who fail to apprehend. At the very least, a kernel of understanding of the world’s perfection can be found in each of us; and in this grain of instinct lays the promise that everyone might someday see the beauty and feel the joy.

My first reading for Hema was something entirely different: William Carlos Williams’s The Red Wheelbarrow.


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