How would you live then? | Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver puts us on the spot with whimsical questions we’ve likely never asked ourselves. My comments follow.
What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
flew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill just
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What if
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What if
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerfully sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day—who knows how, but they do it—were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?
Poem written by Mary Oliver, first published in Blue Iris (2004)
© 2017 by NW Orchard LLC
Published in 2020 by Penguin Books in Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver, p. 167
Prisoners sometimes say what keeps them going is having a room with a view. A room with even a tiny window on a tiny plant or part of a tree branch. Like clock-work, these bits of nature became companions. They signal changing seasons, measure the speed of the wind, announce the time of day, or signal the coming darkness of night. All without a paycheck or a bonus for going the extra mile.
We humans seem glued to electronic devices, out of touch with the Garden our Creator handed over to us. Perhaps even out of touch with each other as precious women, children and men. “More precious, more meaningful than gold.”
I laugh when I read this poem. It’s full of whimsy. The kind that comes from close observation of nature and human nature, which Mary then turns into gold. Who wouldn’t like to see and experience Mary’s unexpected everyday wonders? Perhaps she’s inviting us to slow down and redirect our attention. Life is short.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 May 2021
Photo found at npr.org