The Poet Thinks about the Donkey | Mary Oliver
Here’s a thought-provoking Palm Sunday poem from Mary Oliver. My comments follow.
The Poet Thinks about the Donkey
On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.
How horses, turned out into the meadows,
leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
clatter away, splashed with sunlight!
But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.
Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.
I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.
© 2006 by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in Thirst, p. 44
I love Mary Oliver’s focus on the donkey. He isn’t just a convenient prop, needed for this so-called ‘triumphal’ march into Jerusalem. Nor is he a famous, beautiful or even clean donkey. He likely has no idea how to race around meadows with horses, leaping with sheer joy. Nor does he know how to fly into the sunlight alongside released doves.
All he knows is how to stand, wait, and do what needs to be done. Which, on this day, means carrying on his small back the hope of all Jerusalem. Well…almost all Jerusalem. Cheers and jeers sometimes sound all too similar.
Was he brave? Probably not. Nor could he have been all cleaned up, given the inevitable dust of the earth hanging in the air. To say nothing of noise and pushing and shoving to get a look at this strange parade.
No problem. His calling on that day was to walk forward without coaxing or threatening, carrying the hope of all the world on his small, dark obedient back. Bravely he moved forward through a noisy crowd, one dusty hoof after the other, without turning back, running away, or refusing to move at all.
Where does Mary Oliver’s poem find you on this Palm Sunday? And what does it mean to be brave in the face of tragedy and undeclared war rolling out in front of all our eyes?
Thanks for your visit today. I pray each of us will find courage to do what we’re made to do: love our Maker with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 March 2021
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