A Thousand Mornings

Tim Farrand
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" - Mary Oliver
This post was originally published on September 17th, 2020.

Back in March of 2020, as the pandemic was beginning to have a direct effect on my life and work, I found that I was consistently drawn to reading the poetry and essays of Mary Oliver. Something about the optimism and freedom of her writing gave me strength and comfort in the months of March, April, and May when everything else around me felt so uncertain and at times terrifying. Oliver was able to take solace in the natural world and when life becomes tough her meditations on nature give us a fresh perspective.

Oliver opens her collection of poems A Thousand Mornings with the poem "I go down to the shore."

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall–
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

This poem has been a constant reminder to keep going. Yes, I may feel miserable sometimes but that does not mean I can stay stagnant or wallow in my self-pity. I need to keep moving. No matter the external conditions, the ocean will always continue to do its work. The waves continue to roll in during times of sunshine as well as those of storm.

When you spend time in nature, you realize that everything has its own role and purpose. Every day, bees do what bees do and squirrels will go about their business. The sun rises and the earth becomes alive with plants and animals going about their own tasks. Even at night, the earth doesn't sleep. A night crew awakens and goes about its time, playing its part. Nature teaches us that no matter what, we need to keep going. Anything stagnant does not survive.

The resilience of nature is the central theme in Mary Oliver's poem "Hurricane" from A Thousand Mornings.

It didn't behave
like anything you had
ever imagined. The wind
tore at the trees, the rain
fell for days slant and hard.
The back of the hand to everything. I watched
the trees bow and their leaves fall
and crawl back into the earth.
As though, that was that.
This was one hurricane
I lived through, the other one
was of a different sort, and
lasted longer. Then
I felt my own leaves giving up and
falling. The back of the hand to
everything. But listen now to what happened
to the actual trees;
toward the end of that summer day they
pushed new leaves from their stubbed limbs.
It was the wrong season, yes,
but they couldn't stop. They
looked like telephone poles and didn't
care. And after the leaves came
blossoms. For some things
there are no wrong seasons.
Which is what I dream of for me.

From Oliver's poem "Sometimes"

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Oliver's poem "A Thousand Mornings," which she chose as the title for this particular collection of poems, reminds us that amidst uncertainty and darkness there will be a dawn. A thousand mornings. That is not a glimmer of hope but a promise. The darkness will pass and the morning will come. Thousands of them are on their way.

All night my heart makes its way
however it can over the rough ground
of uncertainties, but only until night
meets and then is overwhelmed by
morning, the light deepening, the
wind easing and just waiting, as I
too wait (and when have I ever been
disappointed?) for redbird to sing.

Mary Oliver would have been 85 years old last week, and I think that if she were living through this pandemic she would have spent a lot of time in nature, observing how everything keeps moving even when the world is in a panic. I believe she would find solace and inspiration there, I certainly have.

"I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

Happy (belated) Birthday Mary and thank you for helping guide us back to the essence of nature.

Here is the full video of Mary Oliver reading a selection of her poems at the 92nd Street Y on October 15th, 2012:

Cover photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

January 12, 2022

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