Thursday, February 29, 2024

Blowin’ in the Wind: Mary Oliver -- “My Work is Loving the World”

("Blowin’ in the Wind" is a periodic feature on my blog containing an assortment of nature writings – songs, excerpts, poems, prayers, Bible readings or other things – pieces I haven’t written but that inspire me or give me joy. I trust they’ll do the same for you.)

I want to share with you today a poem from one of my favorites, Mary Oliver. My sister-in-law Beth recommended her to me one time when I was visiting her and my brother’s home. And what do you know? There just happened to be a book of Oliver’s poetry there at the bedstand in their guest bedroom. Once I found that my hosts went to bed a lot earlier than me, it gave me plenty of opportunity that visit to spend some time with her writing. 

Mary Oliver was an American poet who died in 2019. A Pulitzer Prize winner for her 1983 American Primitive, much of her work has a natural bent to it, which is what attracts me to it. Some of her critics call her too accessible, but to me, that is hardly a criticism but a compliment. When it comes to poetry, I need accessibility! Though not a woman of declared religion, I find not infrequent references to the divine or sacred in her work, which is welcome to me as a person of faith. Having written twenty books of poetry and six of prose, her collection Devotions is a compilation of many favorites written over a fifty year span from the 60’s to the twenty-tens, and would be a great place for new readers to begin.

The poem I share here is titled “Messenger” from her 2006 collection Thirst. Her life-long habit of solitary walks, and the place these played in her inspiration, may easily be imagined.

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird--

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.


Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters…


which is mostly standing still and learning to be


The robin, the rosehips.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing,

since all the ingredients are here,


which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.

What are three of the important things that matter? Not only in natural observation but in life? Astonishment, joy and gratitude, she says. These not only build a life but call us deeper into creation care, because we care for the things we love. 

My work is loving the world. Not a bad gig. Sounds like Jesus.

~~ RGM, February 29 2024