Averyt: Mary Oliver Remembrance

Jan 22, 2019

Mary Oliver is gone at age 83 – and I feel like I’ve lost a friend, a soulmate, a walking companion.

Walks through nature provided the inspiration for Mary Oliver’s poetry. For nearly 50 years, she wandered the woods and coastline near her Provincetown home, pausing often to meditate and scribble.

Nature spoke volumes to Oliver and she shared what she heard in 20 books of verse. She won a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, but what she really won was the hearts of people. Her goal was never critical acclaim – but rather to share the life lessons she learned in nature.

Oliver paid close attention to little details. She wrote about grasshoppers’ “jaws” and the “skulls” of mushrooms. Always curious, she looked in awe at the natural world around her - and the healing power of words, which she acknowledged saved her own life. Growing up in a painful, abusive environment, Oliver later said what rescued her was “Poetry and the beauty of the world.”

Oliver wrote from her heart with accessible language about themes that mattered. Like many, I first became acquainted with her when a friend shared the poem Wild Geese. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world … calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting … announcing your place in the family of things.” Those were words that resonated with me as a young woman, struggling to find myself …

Later in life, I again found inspiration in an Oliver poem describing her day strolling through fields. She asks rhetorically in the poem, The Summer Day, “Tell me, what else should I have done?” Then she responds with a challenge that’s become my own … “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver answered that question for herself in her late poem, When Death Comes. The line she wrote is a fitting tribute to this extraordinary person, this iconic poet … “When it’s over, I want to say, all my life I was a bride married to amazement.”