Gratitude by Mary Oliver

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Mary Oliver’s Gratitude Poem came to my notice while I was searching for quotations on gratitude for another project. I am only familiar with Mary Oliver from one of her famous quotations that many religious people use in their meditations and artwork: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and a short book that I borrowed from the library (Upstream: Selected Essays).

As I read this poem, and then read through it again I was distracted how each of Oliver’s stanzas answered a question. It was thought-provoking and contemplative and I immediately thought this would make a great writing exercise; a way to stretch myself whether as poetry or prose. A push like the daffodils poking through the soil.

I still don’t know for sure if her poem should be read prior to the answering of the questions, but I would suggest doing whatever feels right for you at the moment. Obviously you can’t unread the poem so make your choice with care.

I suppose you could answer the questions and then read the poem and perhaps go back a few days later with the questions again. It may be a nice exercise on its own to see if the original answers changed in the ensuing days along with another reading.

For me, I will read the poem and savor it and then I will continue the writing exercise. I plan to come back to the questions next month from a different perspective, perhaps on an outing or after church services. There are many ways to approach something as profound as Mary Oliver’s writings.

Mary Oliver’s poem appears below the highlighted questions and my answers to the questions appear below that.

In doing this exercise, I sat in the quiet, in the stillness and let the questions speak to me. What do you hear them speaking to you?

What did you notice?
What did you hear?
When did you admire?
What astonished you?
What would you like to see again?
What was most tender?
What was most wonderful?
What did you think was happening?


Mary Oliver – Gratitude Poem

What did you notice?

The dew-snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.

What did you hear?

The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.

When did you admire?

The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.

What astonished you?

The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.

What would you like to see again?

My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue,
her recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness,
her strong legs, her curled black lip, her snap.

What was most tender?

Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.

What was most wonderful?

The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.

What did you think was happening?

The green beast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve of the first snow—

so the gods shake us from our sleep.

[Gratitude is copyrighted to Mary Oliver and her Estate and Publisher. No money is made on the use of this poem.]


I sat for some time and thought about the words in the questions. I decided to go back about one year and contemplate the pandemic in all the ways that the questions made me think about it. Some things have changed – more people out and about, masks (we weren’t wearing them a year ago or we were just starting), vaccinations. It’s good to look back as we begin the real recovery in so many ways – economically, yes, health, yes, but also emotionally. It feels like coming out of a shell or a shelter after a storm.

What did you notice?
the quiet.
my heartbeat.
no cars, no people walking, no dogs.
at the grocery, head down, everyone getting in and getting out.
tension.

What did you hear?
on my excursions to my front yard hearing the breeze,
the birds,
the church bells,
a stray car,
and one kid in a stroller says hi

When did you admire?
my kids doing their schoolwork at home.
the school district keeping it all together.
the grocery store workers.
Zoom.

What astonished you?
the incompetence.
the kindness.
the quiet of all of us at home at the same time.
how frightened I became, especially of the unknown.

What would you like to see again?
the retreat house
Canada
the inside of a Starbucks
church family

What was most tender?
my kids still cuddling just a little.
seeing Onward – the last movie I saw in theatres.
cooperation.

What was most wonderful?
not running out of toilet paper!
livestream masses,
Zoom retreats,
weekly telephone rosary.
information.
Dr. Fauci.
podcasts,
Books.

What did you think was happening?
the end of the world – just a little bit…
a reset,
a chance to re-prioritize,
re-engagement,
reflection.
expect the unexpected.
too much time and not enough.

Inspire. March.

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“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

— John Milton, English philosopher

Original. (c)2021
Inspired by the following art:
Ruth the Gleaner, Suzanne Moore, Copyright 2010, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA. 

I was too sick last week to publish this month’s Inspire post. I didn’t have anything come to me for inspiration, which to be honest, is usually how it goes. Either a quotation or a picture – something starts the post off in my mind, but not this time.

As I kept staring at the continually postponed space in the planner, nothing came, and as I recovered a few days later, I spent time catching up on everything I’d missed.

And still, the idea of gratefulness kept returning to mind. Lent has a way of turning thoughts inward. More praying, more meditating, more contemplation, and yes, more gratitude. It is a quieter few weeks as we think on the journey to Easter and the Resurrection, and in the quiet, we are able to be with our thoughts and see the blessings and the gratitude that we often miss along the way in our cluttered minds.

Was it not doom-scrolling on Twitter, checking each morning that the world was still intact? I was certainly grateful for that.

Was it the covid relief money that our family received this weekend? I am very grateful for that. I paid all of my bills on Sunday. We’re even considering a home improvement, although that will take more discussion.

Was it teacher friends getting their vaccines?

Was it new Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, a brilliant, direct, honest representative of the Biden Admnistration? Watch her daily briefings and see what I mean.

Was it just the very idea of the Biden Administration being in charge? Waking up this morning to a quiet Twitter, the President visiting with his grandchildren at his family home and attending Sunday Mass? It’s certainly different.

This week, I’m filled with gratitude. For the researchers, the scientists, the doctors, the ongoing competence with the vaccine roll-out, and on a personal note for everyone I will encounter tomorrow at the vaccine site where I will be receiving my first dose!

With credit to the gratitude I feel to those who have gone before me, I will publish pictures and a listing of side effects (if any) that I encounter.

I feel very strongly that everyone who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated, and I also feel that everyone should have all of the information available to them. Side effects are individual and not everyone gets them. Knowing what you may expect before you go is the first step in moving past the pandemic year. It may sound cliche, but knowledge is power. I hope to add to your knowledge and I’d be grateful for your good thoughts and prayers.

Inspire 2021. January.

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Gratitude Art. (c)2021

Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.

– – Melody Beattie

What can we look forward to in this new year?

Beginning tomorrow, everything.

I’m optimistic. A new President and Vice President will be sworn in at noon tomorrow, and thus begins 100 days.

100 Days of mask wearing.

100 Days of vaccinations.

100 Days of returning to ourselves and becoming better.

A new year to set goals, to take chances, to create.

I’m looking forward.

Instead of publishing Election Connection today, I will publish the last one (unless times require updates) next week with ways we can continue to be civic minded every day, not only every four years. Persist, Stand up, Speak out, Rise up. Together, we can make things better.