The Journey – Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Journey

I am saddened by today’s news of the death of the inestimable Mary Oliver and am moved to honour her in my own way.

The first poem I learned by heart and one of the first of hers I encountered twenty-some years ago was The Journey. It spoke so powerfully to me of the way we each find our own way in the world. It gave me courage and encouragement to do the only thing you could do. I spoke it often and her voice became my own.

Over the years, I immersed myself in her poetry, always finding new ones to delight and surprise and challenge me. She used direct, accessible language, a hallmark for me of poems I love, and hers were a subtle and often not-so-subtle influence in my own writing. Her observations on the natural world were a doorway, as an urbanite, to a place I often longed to go; her words took me there. As she herself said, she “made a world out of words”.

When her death made the national and international news, my husband remarked how astonishing that someone who was not a rock star, nor a sports celebrity, should be so noticed and celebrated. And I replied, that’s because she is a poet who spoke for and to us all and will continue to do so. She did not end up simply having visited this world.

I am ever grateful for the legacy this gentle soul has left any who choose to read her work. What she created mattered and will live on. I bow in gratitude and appreciation.

18 thoughts on “The Journey – Mary Oliver

  1. What sad news dear Janice. I didn’t know this. Thank you for this lovely tribute. She has been a beacon of light and her death is a loss to us all. In sorrow and appreciation, Trudy

    *Ring the bells that still can ring* *Forget your perfect offerings* *There is a crack in everything* *that’s how the light gets in. ——-Leonard Cohen*

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  2. Ah, yes. Thank you so much for contributing your thoughts and words to help me reflect also on her contribution to me. My first introduction to her work was when I was doing my coaching certification course and the poem that includes: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”. That stopped me in my boots. Margaret 613-725-6941 h 613-795-9879 c

    Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

    – Oscar Wilde.

    >

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  3. Jan, thanks for sharing this sad news – I have to say, it was through you that I came to know Mary Oliver’s work more intimately – love that her passing did capture such attention – renews my faith in us two-leggeds :O)

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  4. Jan, thank you for this beautiful tribute to Mary Oliver. She has been a guide for me over the years teaching me how to truly see the world, to slow down in it, to rejoice in the simple wild things around us. I met her twice: the first time at an Anglican monastery in Cambridge, Massachusets when I was there on retreat in 1997. She was there to visit one of the monks who was a good friend of hers. She was with her partner Molly. Some years later I stood in line with a crowd after a reading she’d done here in St. Louis waiting to get some of my old, dog-eared volumes of hers signed. We exchanged a few words and I dissolved into the crowd around her. I remember thinking she read her poems just the right way. Not all poets do. She read them the way I hear them when I read them, simple, direct, without drama, the only emotion that which rose off the words themselves. The poem The Journey arrived in my life shortly before I made the decision to leave a 34 year marriage. It will always be a touchstone poem for me, as it is for so many.

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  5. How I would have loved to meet her myself Wendy, though I’m sure I would have been wordless in her presence. I believe her poems will continue to be a guide and touchstone for future generations. Thank you for sharing your experience of her.xoxoxox

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  6. Ah, Jan, thank you for this tribute to Mary Oliver. I love how you’ve captured her impact: “she is a poet who spoke for and to us all and will continue to do so.” She taught me to look deeply into the world around me with curiosity and love for all that it holds. Love – Mary Lou

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  7. Jan,
    Thank you so much for your beautiful and very touching tribute to Mary Oliver. You introduced me to her poetry a few years ago. In fact you reintroduced me to poetry as well. I am ever so grateful Jan. I have found such comfort there.
    Thank you also to Wendy for sharing such special experiences. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to listen to Mary Oliver read her poetry ‘in person’.

    Lisa xo

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