“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
(Mary Oliver, from The Summer Day)
I’ve always loved this quote from poet Mary Oliver, but didn’t take a deeper dive into the poem until recently.
The Summer Day by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
(from New and Selected Poems, 1992 Beacon Press, Boston, MA)
Somehow every word, every phrase, is exactly what I need right now.
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention…”
“Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”
Perfect for this time when we are saying goodbye to people we love, praying for others, wishing upon wish that life didn’t change, and then being grateful for the things that do change. Life, especially this moment in life, is complex, isn’t it? I can’t decide if it’s best to think my way through this, or to stop thinking and just be.
For me, being present in nature, appreciating and making art, and writing, brings comfort and inspiration for the next step. Mary Oliver’s words are doing that for me now. Her words acknowledge sorrow, then replace it with joy. They notice and celebrate wonder. And they ground me in what it means to be here, right now, with love and astonishment.
More of her words…
“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
“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.”
“And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb. (Don’t Hesitate)”
All photos by Kim Tackett. Point Reyes, CA.