What I Have Learned So Far

A friend took me to a John Koethe poetry-reading a while ago. I had bought a new pair of red shoes that day, and Koethe read a poem about red shoes. From a poetic mood, the coincidence was significant. Today, Marquette initiated Mary Oliver into some special category of human (I didn’t really pay attention to this part, get to the poems already). One of the poems she read was titled after a Bob Dylan saying. Last week, I had gone to see Bob Dylan preform live for the first time. Again, from a poetic mood, the coincidence was significant.

Mary Oliver is a well-known, well-respected, well-accoladed poet. I knew very little about her and her poetry prior to seeing her today and listening to her read a good amount of it. I left thinking that she is an exemplary human being, a gorgeous aged woman with an authentic humor that one would only think to encounter in a sharp, untamed youth. Oliver was a pleasure to be near, a rare example of a person I come across and whose company I would actively and continuously seek, if I could. She spoke about the importance of routine, being patient with oneself and letting the world return to oneself when uninspired, writing not to be fancy but to be understood, and loving your own work so much that success on account of it does not enter the equation. She also revealed that her favorite poets of current are Rumi, Rimbaud, Shelley, and Whitman.

Oliver read twenty-six of her poems, and I wrote a sentence or two to sum up each poem for myself. I would like to share my twenty-six points, as the summation of what my experience with Mary Oliver’s poetry was like.

1. The dog ate a book left unguarded.

2. By the shore, as a shell, to be moved by the sea.

3. What is a prayer? Listening with a pen in the air.

4. Never hurry through the world: go easy, be filled with light like the trees.

5. Many with many answers are in a theater. Many with many questions make music.

6. Worried long, worrying came to nothing, I gave it up in the morning.

7. If I had a boat it would be fast, with no land in sight: it would be a boat I couldn’t steer.

8. When I die I want to think “All my life, I was a bride married to amazement.”

9. Don’t be afraid of its plenty–joy was not made to be a crumb.

10. You don’t have to be good. Let your body love what it loves, and the world to offer itself (and yourself) to you.

11. “Anything worth thinking about is worth singing about.” — Bob Dylan

12. “Sometimes breaking the rules is just extending the rules” (#2 of three things to remember).

13. I was made of whatever I lived under, wherever I was led to, whatever carried me.

14. Foolish things like fear and ambition have never occurred to roses.

15. Percy the dog drank the purest water, but also nibbled on dead fish.

16. Violets were gone because of the necessary buildings being built.

17. “It’s impossible to remember ‘wild’ and not want it back,” though it may kill me.

18. A cat-bird is never seen with eyes closed, and knows about how men ought to love.

19. Live high up, move to the mountain, by staying exactly where you are.

20. Not enough. Too much.

21. The sun relaxed, then gone: is there in any language a word as perfect as the feeling of this vision?

22. As I leave shouts of bad advice behind a new voice is audible, which I recognize as mine.

23. “I don’t live comfortably with the cleverness of our times.”

24. Living fast and vanishing; dwelling forever. What is time?

25. I own my first house and for the first time wish I owned nothing.

26. Without dark thoughts, without questions that won’t be answered.


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