Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grieving with Mary Oliver

"So many notions fill the day!
I give them
gowns of words,
sometimes I give them
little shoes that rhyme."

-- Mary Oliver,
from "This Day, and Probably Tomorrow Also"

I finished Oliver's Red Bird poems this morning, feeling on the verge of tears at all the sadness in them.  And still, dealing with death and dying as she was at the time of writing, she could offer up lines like those above --I love the idea of "little shoes that rhyme."

Grief, I think, is like the road in this picture, only turned on its side; lots of up and down moments, the magnitude of which -- both in terms of range and awareness -- does seem to lessen over time, at least until some new grief sets in.  "Now comes the long blue cold/ and what shall I say but that some/bird in the tree of my heart/is singing," says Oliver.  And so it is that those who grieve will catch themselves laughing and then feel guilty for enjoying themselves. Oliver has a way of alleviating the guilt, of accepting that each piece of how we feel is just that: a piece of how we feel.

Grief is, of course -- like all the other fates that fall to us as humans -- a process, a long and winding road that takes us into ever new territory even as we feel ourselves stumbling in the same old ruts.  But it is also a companion, as she articulates so beautifully in her poem, "Love Sorrow."

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,

what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so

utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment

by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see, 

as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.


Maureen said...

I have Red Bird. I've read it a couple of times. It's a language of loss that comes from deep love. It's the love that triumphs.

The personification of sorrow in this poem I find particularly touching today.

Robin said...

One of my favorite poems ever.