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.

Emma Watson’s Book Club – Robert Frost

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This is one of those school assignments that stay with you for life. You’re trudging along through the poetry unit of middle/high school English class, and something just grabs you and clings to you as much as you cling to it.

How many of us have had a choice put before us that we’re stuck thinking about for much longer than any other choice? I write constantly about roads and paths and journeys, and this is one bit of writing that I always seem to go to in my mind.

The same could be said about Emma Watson’s characters, Hermione Granger and Belle from Beauty and the Beast. In both instances, she can easily just give in and be who others want her to be, but instead she takes a chance and makes a choice to be herself, and let the chips fall where they may.

In the Harry Potter series, she has her two best friends (Harry and Ron), and they tease her, but they love her and wouldn’t change her for one minute. She’s able to grow and find herself and her priorities and stick them out.

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is a little more self-aware. Gaston professes his love for her, but she must change in order to be truly accepted by him. She’s having none of that. She loves her books, her education, her imagination, and no one should take that away from her. Let her be her or what’s the point? The Beast doesn’t try to change her, but in truly knowing her, he is changed.

Emma, in the Entertainment Weekly article recommending books, suggests Robert Frost‘s poems. This is one of my two personal favorites; the other being Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Share your favorites and enjoy.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Zombie Poetry

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This isn’t much but on the double occasion of World Zombie Day and National Poetry Day, I think I would do my toe into a poem about Zombies:

Zombie,
Walker,
Rotter.
Slimy, slushing, smooshy.
Brainless, hairless,
Skinless.
Rabid.
Wants all the things
All the time.
Not knowing what
It wants.
It wants what was,
But not remembering
What that was.
Or what it is.

Blogging 101 – Assign 4 – Words in Space (Etheree Poetry)

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Blogging 101 Assign 4: Write for your Dream Reader and use a different style.

I am in a writing workshop that meets once a month and this month’s topic is to write a poem in the Etheree style. It’s a series of syllables (1-10, then 10-1). Visually, if centered I think it forms a diamond; left alignment forms half a diamond.

I’ve been hearing and writing about quiet spaces and I thought that was a good place to start this new project.

I’ve titled it

Words in Space:

Space

Quiet

Quiet space

Belonging space

A page from a book

A solitary bench

Quiet in a noisy space

Can noisy spaces be quiet?

Thoughts in the quiet, thoughts making words

The pen scrapes the paper, the ink flows red

The blank space of the page is blank no more

Outside the writing can be quiet

Inside is raging and spinning

Words spewing out going fast

The mind is too fast for

The pen to keep up

Words are rushing

The quiet

Away

Now


Space

Quiet

Quiet space

Belonging space

A page from a book

A solitary bench

Quiet in a noisy space

Can noisy spaces be quiet?

Thoughts in the quiet, thoughts making words

The pen scrapes the paper, the ink flows red

The blank space of the page is blank no more

Outside the writing can be quiet

Inside is raging and spinning

Words spewing out going fast

The mind is too fast for

The pen to keep up

Words are rushing

The quiet

Away

Now