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Invitation by Mary Oliver

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Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
        to linger
                for just a little while
                       out of your busy

and very important day
        for the goldfinches
                that have gathered
                       in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
        to see who can sing
                the highest note,
                       or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
        or the most tender?
                Their strong, blunt beaks
                       drink the air

as they strive
                not for your sake
                       and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
        but for sheer delight and gratitude—
                believe us, they say,
                       it is a serious thing

just to be alive
        on this fresh morning
                in the broken world.
                       I beg of you,

do not walk by
        without pausing
                to attend to this
                       rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.


Have been deep into the revision process for the past few weeks. Not only of my poems, I suppose, but my life, too, looking and relooking at the way I pay attention to what is before me and what is around me. Have been teaching myself to linger more, and do you know, that it is a gift we give ourselves. To linger, I mean. To give ourselves more time to be here.

The older I get the more I want to be here. Of course there are days so dark I wonder what it is all for, but surprisingly—and I have indeed surprised myself—I have slowly been leaning towards the desire to make a life. To build a life. To change my life so it unfolds in proportion to my intentions, and I suppose my sense of courage and adventure.

I’m thirty-seven and I thought it’d all be over in a few years for me. But here I am, still alive in this broken world, daring to still love it despite everything. Can I do it? Here is my heart, it is whispering: oh but we must, we must.

Red Bird by Mary OliverSOURCE

This poem appeared in Red Bird by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2009. Shared here with profound gratitude.


“Mary Oliver’s twelfth book of poetry, Red Bird comprises sixty-one poems, the most ever in a single volume of her work. Overflowing with her keen observation of the natural world and her gratitude for its gifts, for the many people she has loved in her seventy years, as well as for her disobedient dog Percy, Red Bird is a quintessential collection of Oliver’s finest lyrics.”


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