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Sometimes by Mary Oliver

MARGINALIA • SKIP TO THE POEM

1.
A mantra for my life: Endure. Just that, an axis I could revolve around. As if the order of everything depends on my ability to dig in, and, on my chance that I buckle (I have weak knees), to stay there and get to know the earth..

2.
It’s not just the one of course, but you know this: the words you pull out in the dark.

3.
These days though: less is more. And yet more is more.

4.
Maybe it’s time to think: Yield. Maybe it’s time to say: Surrender.

Sometimes
Mary Oliver

1.

Something came up
out of the dark.
It wasn’t anything I had ever seen before.
It wasn’t an animal
    or a flower,
unless it was both.

Something came up out of the water,
    a head the size of a cat
but muddy and without ears.
I don’t know what God is.
I don’t know what death is.

But I believe they have between them
    some fervent and necessary arrangement.

2.

Sometimes
melancholy leaves me breathless.

3.

Later I was in a field full of sunflowers.
I was feeling the head of midsummer.
I was thinking of the sweet, electric
    drowse of creation,

when it began to break.

In the west, clouds gathered.
Thunderheads.
In an hour the sky was filled with them.

In an hour the sky was filled
    with the sweetness of rain and the blast of lightning.
Followed by the deep bells of thunder.

Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!
Both of them mad to create something!

The lighting brighter than any flower.
The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.

4.

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

5.
Two or three times in my life I discovered love.
Each time it seemed to solve everything.
Each time it solved a great many things
    but not everything.
Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and
thoroughly, solved everything.

6.

God, rest in my heart
and fortify me,
take away my hunger for answers,
let the hours play upon my body

like the hands of my beloved.
Let the cathead appear again—
the smallest of your mysteries,
some wild cousin of my own blood probably—
some cousin of my own wild blood probably,
in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.

7.

Death waits for me, I know it, around
    one corner or another.
This doesn’t amuse me.
Neither does it frighten me.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.
It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.
I walked slowly, and listened

to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.

Endnotes

This poem appeared in Red Bird by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2008. Shared here with profound gratitude.

Read more works by Mary OliverFind books by this poet • Or view my library 

Explore poems in pursuit of: paying attentionwhat is holyliving • Or browse the index

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Comments (10)

  • Susan

    I needed this today. Thank you, T.

    reply
  • Gail Nayowith

    Thank you.

    reply
  • John Kemp

    Found you a couple of days ago, while looking for Mary Oliver.

    I’m a little curious.

    Do I need another friend? Would you be, could you be my neighbor?

    Publication is the auction. Do you read Emily a lot?

    Socrates warns us about writing. Have you read the Phaedrus lately?

    He asks a lot of good questions. How many copies? How many books? How many Academies (Plato?) and Lycea/Lyceums (Aristotle?)? How many degrees (de gradus) of philosophy/science? How many factories, guns, slaves, empires? What did Phaedrus and Plato learn from Socrates? What did Alexander learn from Aristototle. Were the women also to blame?

    What has happened to you (and them) since 2005? Them being both the living and the dead.

    Are computers, inboxes, mass-productions of arts & crafts, arts & sciences, helping us get to know ourselves and each other any better?

    I’m an old man (76). Yesterday I decided to retire. You may have helped. I don’t like the word ‘retirement.’

    Do I need another friend? Do you?

    Thanks for your breath. And for helping me and Mary O. I’m still breathing a little, but maybe not too much longer. I’m more Casaubon, than Emily or Walt. More Housman, descended from his “long line of maiden aunts”:

    Because I liked you better
    Than suits a man to say
    It irked you, and I promised
    To throw the thought away.

    To put the world between us
    We parted, stiff and dry;
    Goodbye, said you, forget me.
    I will, no fear, said I

    If here, where clover whitens
    The dead man’s knoll, you pass,
    And no tall flower to meet you
    Starts in the trefoiled grass,

    Halt by the headstone naming
    The heart no longer stirred,
    And say the lad that loved you
    Was one that kept his word.

    Poetry has helped me a lot, both in and out of the closet. I’m curious about your gender . . . and my own. Is the Binary thing important? Or is the Question (LGBTQ)?

    Many questions. Maybe you’ll answer one or two.
    Thanks in any case. Poetry helps. I’m just not sure about publication.

    j

    reply
  • Hi. I’m curious why you left out a big chunk of the third section of this poem?
    Specifically, this portion that is before “water from the heavens!” & etc.

    3.
    Later I was in a field full of sunflowers.
    I was feeling the heat of midsummer.
    I was thinking of the sweet, electric
    drowse of creation,
    when it began to break.

    In the west, clouds gathered.
    Thunderheads.
    In an hour the sky was filled with them.

    In an hour the sky was filled
    with the sweetness of rain and the blast of lightning.
    Followed by the deep bells of thunder.

    reply

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