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The Arrowhead by Mary Oliver

What happened is, I sat on my desk yesterday and found that bits and pieces of my life were stolen.

I know no other way to say it except that. It feels a lot like someone is stealing my life, I wrote afterward to my friends, after an hour of leaning against the wall and trying to steady my breathing. Shaken, yes, that’s what I was. Words—all of this, here—this is who I am. Never mind the body, never mind the skin and bones and muscle—words, I am made of words. That’s my life, too, my whole fucking life: words.

What happened is, someone sent me a letter asking me to come back. Someone wrote me and said, your blog changed my life. He also said, I think you should know about this.

I know no other way to do it, and believe me I have spent the entire day mulling over what to do. I know no other way, do you see, except to reveal who you are, even if you might not have meant for things to happen the way they did, even if you did things with good intentions (I am trying to understand your actions when I say that).

I know no other way, and it is going to be painful for the both of us—it already is

What happened is, this blog—returntolive—copied a lot of what I have written here. And by ‘a lot’ I mean a lot. Try thirty entries. No, try more than that. Try entries written as far back as 2005. Try almost everything.

Let me be clear: the poems are yours as much as they are mine.

What I mean is, take them. What I mean is, read them, and read them again. What I mean is, hold them close to you, let them live under your skin. I have found these poems when I needed them. Your arrival here, your discovery of things that speak to you, that speak of who you are—who am I to deny such meeting?

Let me be clear: I have created this space to find myself. But you are here, dear reader, and you have stayed through all these years, and I recognise that. I recognise that this space is now yours, too, that we can be alone together here, that somehow we know each other even if we haven’t met, because poetry does that.

What I mean is: these poems have saved me. What I mean is, if they are going to save you, too, who am I to deny such opportunity? I want them to find their way to you, to your hands, by chance or choice. I want these poems to arrive at your life with bells ringing; I want you to feel alive, alive again. But I want these poems to sit quietly by your bed as well, and hold your hand when you feel you can’t get up, when you feel there is no meaning left in the world; I want you to know that you are not entirely by yourself, that someone loves you, that I love you, because what else is there to do in this life but love strangers who understand what it is to be utterly bereft?

These poems have saved me, and if they are going to save someone else—if they are going to save you—then take them. Let me be clear: I don’t care if you put them in your own blog, I don’t care if you send them to your lover, I don’t care if you share them with a friend, I don’t care if you tell them, I found this. Because you did. That’s the truth: I found them, but you found them, too.

What is important: to remember who wrote it. To remember who said those words that you now carry in your heart. To remember their names, and to remember them correctly. You have a responsibility now to get it right.

This is the least we can do: to remember who these poets are, to know that they wrote these words, so that the next time we speak of their work, their name would pass our lips as if a prayer of thanks.

I say Creeley, and I remember that pain is a flower. I say Walcott, and this comes back to me: You will love again the stranger who was your self. Reading someone else’s poems is, after all, all we’ve ever done, and I whisper, Light. Light.

But this person who kept that blog, is still keeping it—it’s protected now, “marked private by its owner”—also took my words.

Let me repeat what was written in the About page: “This blog is a collection of poems that speak to me, quotes that take my breath away, and my own writings/thoughts/poems.” Took them, collected them—it’s all semantics at this point, isn’t it. So let me say, took them, because that is what happened. My own words were taken, held in someone else’s possession, and were made to look like someone else wrote them.

My words, my thoughts, my sense of truth, my life. The things I wrote to accompany each poem were taken and made to fit someone else’s life. At least, that’s what it looked like, that’s what it felt like. I mean—it’s incredible.

To find a single, standalone post titled, “What brought you here?”, and know that I have written the exact same thing almost two years ago. To find another, titled “Not listening”, and know that I have written it almost eight years ago.

This hurts me, I told my friends. This hurts me terribly.

The wounds are deepest for things I have written when I was finally coming back to myself again, or when a great love broke my heart. Even my letters to all of you—like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one. All of it and more, taken.

All of it and more, copied and placed in a blog with no link back to where they were found. This person took and took and took, and in a matter of days, amassed a collection—and what a collection it is—of not only poems but life. My life. It almost felt like a dream, until it wasn’t.

Eight years I’ve been here. That’s a long time to be in one place. And yet, I admit, I confess, that the first question I asked myself as soon as I found out about all of this was not how did this happen?, but: is it time to leave?

I know I have thought about leaving a lot of times. Of packing up, of moving on somewhere else, of taking all of this with me, of emptying this place. You know this. You’ve witnessed it, how I turned inward, time and time again, how I wrote in the dark, in private, when it became too much. But then I always come back. Because it seems this is the one anchor I have that has never let me down. Because I have met versions of myself here, because it is proof that strangers who live on opposite sides of the world can become great friends, because one day in August, eight years ago, I posted the very first poem that spoke the truth of who I was: My heart had become very small; it took very little to fill it.

Nevertheless, when I read, I think you should know about this and consequently found out—I thought, I must leave.

I am thinking, who am I to be hurt over this? Do I even have the right to?

I am thinking, but what if I left and end up regretting it? And what happens now to you, to all of you, to all of this?

A friend said, the trouble is that this could always happen. And I know that, I absolutely know that. Because this is not the first time, and it will not be the last. But—things are different for me now. I’m more protective of what I write than when I was much younger, if that makes sense.

The magnitude of this—this incident, the scale of it—worries me. Eight years of reading and writing, and all it took to produce a mirror of this place was a few days.

Is it worth the risk of staying?

I am thinking, maybe nothing is ever mine.

I am thinking, isn’t everything borrowed? Certainly this time. Certainly my life. We are all of us borrowed, and when I say my life, I know it really means, this life that I was given, was allowed to have, for a little while. Even language, even words, even the mouth I use to speak my thoughts, even the hands I use to write what I feel. All of it lent to me, the moment I opened my eyes and started my journey in this world.

So what right have I to make a claim?

What right have I to say, this is mine, and you took it?

Return to live—that is what you have named your blog. Isn’t it funny that I have stayed quiet since June (writing here still, but where no one else can see), yet returned and resurfaced because of what you did?

If you must know, my friends wanted me to make a report, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Report—such an unpleasant word to me now. To give an account of what happened. To share the results of an investigation, a finding. To have you known, to expose you, to have someone shut you down, is what they tell me I should do, but in the process, I’ll have to announce my presence, too.

All night I pondered over this, what to do. Tested its weight, asking myself if it’s the only thing there is, and if it’s cruel. Asking myself if I can be kinder, if I can find another way to resolve it. I slept fitfully. And when I woke up, your blog has turned its back to the world.

Do I feel foolish, worrying all this time, only to be met with this today? Yes. Do I feel hurt still? Yes. Do I want to hear from you, hear your side of things? Yes, of course, yes. Do I think writing about this, writing about you, is difficult? Yes. Do I feel bad about it? God, yes. More than you’ll ever know.

But here we are. You led us here; you’ve got to admit that, at least. I know no other way to do it, because it all started here. I don’t even know your name.

I am thinking, maybe I’ve set myself up for all of this.

I am thinking, maybe nothing is ever mine.

The Arrowhead
Mary Oliver

The arrowhead,
which I found beside the river,
was glittering and pointed.
I picked it up, and said,
“Now, it’s mine.”
I thought of showing it to friends.
I thought of putting it—such an imposing trinket—
in a little box, on my desk.
Halfway home, past the cut fields,
the old ghost
stood under the hickories.
“I would rather drink the wind,” he said,
“I would rather eat mud and die
than steal as you steal,
than lie as you lie.”

From Wild Geese: Selected Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Bloodaxe Books, 2006.

Comments (42)

  • j

    I don’t know you but your words and finds helped me cultivate my love for poetry all the more. I will always be amazed how some people can eloquently express what they feel… how some people have way with words… how amazing works were born out of pen and pain of these people.

    I won’t ask you to stay or leave. It is not for us to decide. But I will ask you to remember that this blog is not about us or the poets and their works. This blog is about you.

    If you choose to stay, let it be for that reason. If you choose to leave, may we respect that decision.

    All the best, T.

  • Healed Soul

    Dear T.

    I’m so sorry about this, I felt ashamed to the bone for the person who did this to you.

    I will always remember the first time I came to your blog, I was looking for Frank O’Hara’s poem “having a coke with you” because it was cited in a silly movie ( you know) that I was watching with the intent to stop thinking and suffering for a little bit.
    I was lonely and I did not know what my heart needed till that very moment: poetry, poetry and a fellow soul.

    Is it true? We never know how much we love something until we lose it? Or maybe we just never think we’d lose it? You helped me out of the rabbit hole and I never told you how grateful I am; so, now, thank you.

    H. S.

  • allyourprettywords

    Dear beautiful wonderful person.

    I too have stolen poems from you, but always always always your words are your own. Your words have inspired me, and the poems that inspire you heal you make you fly have done the same to me in exactly the same and exactly the opposite of ways. And when I have stolen poems from you I have done it in order to pass them on to someone else someones else because you have stolen them from someone else to pass them on to me to everybody.

    Take your time.

    But come back to us again someday.

  • N.

    I feel for you but leaving is not the solution. I know how it is to be a drifter, jumping from places to places, scattered. As my dad always tells me, ‘rolling stones gathers no moss’. So I urge you to stay because you have more reasons to do so than your reason for leaving. Yes, someone copied your words. But that is not your loss. That is his loss for he will forever live in shame. He should be the one to leave and hide. If you feel that by stealing your words, your life has been stolen too, I guess you are wrong. Your life is yours and yours alone. No one can take that away from you unless you permit them to. Please stay for your readers—for the people inspired by your life and your poems. Hear your inner self and you will know that you need to stay and write again and post them in this little corner. For your words, thank you.

  • Gaurav Verma

    🙂 nice read…

  • Ringous

    My english is not so good, but even though i read your text and understand it. You wrote in a simply way and that’s good, tolstoi sayed that greatness only exist with simplicity, goodness and truth, and i feel this things in your words. Art is not for the weak hearts, i don’t remember who said that, can be myself, but i doubt. And art need to the others to exist, if you keep only to yourself is nothing, i won’t say to you don’t quit this blog and erase all of your words, you know what is better to you. But i only want you know that i am a brazilian guy who really enjoy what you read, you have the power to touch people’s soul. You can quit, but not because someone stolen your words, but because of you, because you can’t handle it more. So this what i want to say to you, i really hope that you read it and understand my bad english, sorry for the misspellings.

  • Nimo Nowhere

    Dear stranger,

    I stumbled innocently across your blog just a few hours ago, and even though I know very little about you and will never meet you it somehow makes me feel complete to know that you’re alive.

    Wait, let me explain that.- The knowledge that you, and people like you, exist; fills a void in me. The understanding of the emotions that you’re trying to convey; the hurting and the breathing and the breaking and the living, they are the essence of all human endeavour. It’s what we do, and have always done.

    And it’s nice to be reminded that some of us still care. Whether you return or not in many ways makes no difference, you have already changed me, and many like me. That change resonates and is remembered.

    Sincerely yours,
    No one.

  • This one reminds me of the stoory of The Talking Clock!
    ‘Tis bbeautifully-written and flows smoothly!

    The M-Poet.

  • ‘It is not just when a villainous act [crime] has been committed that it torments us; it is when we think of it afterward, for the remembrance of it lasts forever.’ – Jean Jacques Rousseau

    But perhaps we can change the way we perceive it…

    ‘Enjoying life is like a donut…some focus on the hole [what is taken] while others focus on the whole [what is left].’

  • dl davidson

    II just came upon your blog today,
    and firstly feel moved to thank you
    for sharing so openly, nakedly and
    eloquently the stirrings of your
    heart and soul, for as you well know,
    there is no other true nourishment
    for us here in the world but
    in reading or hearing a stream of words
    that actually carry and deliver
    the palpable living well of feelings
    that are pouring through another
    human being’s heart…

    For what other form of sustenance
    and encouragement is there for us here
    at this earth plane level of consciousness,
    bound up in the utterly perplexing and distressing
    experience of being a person, a separate entity,
    embodied with a personal, private mind,
    in a world filled with billions of other such
    separate entities, each one experiencing
    the very same internal division
    and its endless web of complexity
    and ever-wearying effects.

    And so I thank you
    for sharing your heart
    as it urges you to share
    its living well…,
    and for doing so publicly,
    so yhat ‘we’out here’
    in reading your words
    have the blessed opportunity
    to recognize our experience
    in your experience,
    to see ‘our selves’ in ‘your self”,
    to be re-minded
    that we are, in truth, all experiencing
    the same internal challenges,
    struggling with the same internal questions,
    needing more than anything else on earth
    some reliable confirmation that
    we are not alone in what we are experiencing,
    that it is in fact GOOD and HELPFUL
    to ourselves and everyone else
    to do as the heart feels moved to do,
    to give voice to its living well of love,
    to cry out its fear, to shout out its
    joy, to cry out its dismay, to pour out its
    tears of sadness and sorrow —
    to ‘give to the world’ that which
    never was personal,
    that which never was anyone’s personal idea,
    personal feeling, or personal possession —
    but was, in fact, very intimately experienced
    and very personally felt and painstakingly
    recorded and graciously given into the world.

    So you have..
    and in so doing, you have submitted your personal sense of self,
    subjected your personal sense of identity, to the inevitable pain
    of crucifixion – the crossing out of your separate self-identity –
    through which you have borne the great suffering
    of having your personal labor of love – writing, expressing –
    stolen – forged – misused – or twisted and distorted by some
    other ‘self’ who feels very small and shriveled and envious
    and frightened,.. who hasn’t yet discovered the inner strength
    of the Soul within himself that you have, who hasn’t the courage
    to bring forth and GIVE his heart’s wealth and vulnerability
    to the world, as you have. And yet this you must bear,
    as we all must bear, this slashing of the personal sense of identity —
    the profoundly shocking, wholly unjustifiable loss
    of anything and everything that we conceive of
    as our personal creation and personal possession.

    Let us take heart through all these events,
    for every mystic, every great prophet, every great mind
    that we know of has told us and shown us that this must happen,
    that we must do this willingly — speak out openly from our hearts
    and bear the ‘personal pain’ of every loss and unjust persecution that follows–
    if we are to come into the fullness , the greatness of experiencing
    our resurrection — of coming ito the fullness of our True Identity,
    Our Christhood, our God Self.

    With love and gratitude to you,


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