Category: nature

‘When Death Comes’, Mary Oliver

You can read this poem here.

Whenever I’ve shared poetry in groups, and we’ve explored this poem, it has always had resonances for the participants. Whether the groups are about loss, mortality, love of nature, mindfulness, the search for meaning, ways to live more happily in this bewildering, bruising but also beautiful world… whatever the immediate focus, people find nourishment in this poem. It speaks to them.

The images of death are so simple, but so powerful. That death should ‘[snap] the purse shut’ calls to my mind those old-fashioned purses with the cross-over clasps with spheres on the end of little stalks, which slide across and past each other and shut with such satisfying conviction. I can feel them ‘snap’ home under my fingers as I read those words. Death as a ‘hungry bear in autumn’, feeding urgently, because it must, and willing to take whatever it comes across; death as the dreadful shock of the ‘iceberg between the shoulder blades’—something that dwarfs us and mows us down, without malice or intention, simply because of what it is, and where we happen to be… I find these images unforgettable.

How amazing, though, is where, in Oliver’s hands, these images lead us. Not to lamentation (or not explicitly); but rather, to an honouring of what unites us; to an openness to possibilities; to an acceptance that we all must ‘tend towards silence’; to an honouring of all life as something ‘precious’: and to the determination to live as vividly, intensely, fully as possible. That importance of the distinction between visiting and living isn’t spelled out, but has a quiet profundity which convinces me entirely. This poem gives me a way to think about how I want to live: I don’t want simply to be a visitor here: I want to live here, to belong here, to be a fully-involved citizen of this world, for as long as I am given. And Oliver even suggests how we may do this: by being both bride and bridegroom, ‘married to amazement’, and ‘taking the world in [our] arms’. That might not entirely prevent me being ‘sighing and frightened,/or full of argument’, but it it feels like the very most I can do to minimise that.

Thank you, Mary. I’m so grateful for this poem.

thing 9: ‘married to amazement… taking the world in my arms’: a murmuration of starlings

Extraordinary, mysterious and beautiful. And happening live, in front of us, right here, right now.

At the beginning of part two of his autobiography, Clive James comments on his first sight of snow and the English cityscapes, noting: ‘what I was seeing was a familiar [sight] made strange by being actual instead of transmitted through cultural intermediaries’. Replace the word ‘strange’ in that sentence with ‘make-you-weep wonderful’ and you have something of what it was like to see a murmuration of starlings. I’ve seen them on TV and youtube, seen the images reproduced (read more…)

thing 4: ‘world enough, and time’: a water-pilgrimage (part ii)

So: we walked the 25ish miles from Frome to Bath, stopping to swim, eat and pour water at various points along the way.

Sounds like a kicking weekend, huh? But this turned out to be one of those experiences where time seems to expand to accommodate all the stuff its brings. I think of this as herniated time—time which bulges sideways and intrudes into eternity, or timelessness, or both (if they’re not the same).* All this to be obtained merely by putting one foot in front of the other.

The morning’s walk on day one took us across fields, past poplar-copses (we stopped to listen to the wind in the leaves) (read more…)

stocking the bookshelves…

I’m having a lovely time beginning to fill the bookshelves at what the afternoon knows.

A few posts ago I hit upon the happy idea of linking each post about a Thing with a poem (or sometimes even poems) which would then go into the wtak anthology. Pleasing, don’t you think? So I have today just put up a page about ‘Water’, the poem linked to the first post about thing 4. And I’m already excited about which poem is going to go with the next post. It’s like having access to a sweet shop, but one where the sweets only do you good. How marvellous is that? How can you resist? There’s not a huge range up there yet, but it is growing. Have a look!

The second post about thing 4, part two of the pilgrimage, will be with you in a few days. For the moment, I’ll just mention that I’m hoping to go and watch murmurations some time over the next few weeks or so, as one of my Things. Anyone want to join me?

thing 4: ‘so pricketh hem Natur in hir corages…’: a water pilgrimage (part i)

There must be some kind of equation for packing.

If N=number of things you’d like to take, C the number of things you feel you can carry, and P what you can actually fit in your pack, the initial relationship between N, C and P can be assumed to be something like N>C≥P. After that it gets a bit confusing; but the net result is definitely F, which is what you say when you pick it up for the fifteenth time that day and your shoulders are very, very angry.

I was off to Somerset for a two-day water pilgrimage from the Holy Well at Frome to Aquae Sulis, the springs which feed the baths in, well, Bath. (read more…)