Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart—to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again. . . . In creative work—creative work of all kinds—those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward. . . . The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.
—Mary Oliver, Upstream
For hours I wandered
over the fields
and the only thing that kept me company
was a song,
it glided along
with my delicious dark happiness,
bristling and aching delight
at the world
which has been like this
forever and ever–
the birds, the ponds,
from a lifetime ago
and another country
such a willing and lilting companion—
made so obviously for me.
At what unknowable cost.
And by a stranger.
—Mary Oliver, from “Ich Bin Der Welt Abhanden Gekommen,” House of Light
Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor. With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats. I didn’t choose them, I don’t fault them, but it took time to reject them. Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packets of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream.
—Mary Oliver, Upstream
Something touched me, lightly, like a knife-blade. I felt I was bleeding, though just a little, a hint. Inside I flared hot, then cold. I thought of you. Whom I love, madly.
—Mary Oliver, “March,” White Pine
If there is life after the earth-life, will you come with me?
Even then? Since we’re bound to be something, why not
—Mary Oliver, “If there is life after the earth-life, will you come with me,” West Wind
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
—Mary Oliver, “The Uses of Sorrow,” Thirst
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
—Mary Oliver, from “The Ponds,” House of Light