The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac by Mary Oliver

3.

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.

so why not get started immediately.

I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.

And to write music or poems about.

Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.

You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac

This is the third section of a longer poem you can read by clicking on the link above. Mary Oliver’s poetry has such a directness about it that I can’t help but get caught by it, carried along by her words. The way she suggests that since you are already in this world, why not get started immediately?

She invites us to belong to this world, to admire, to weep, to write music or poems about it. She offers blessings to the senses we usually take for granted. And tells us we could live a long life. Or not, life and death being unpredictable.

Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going? How can we not be surprised out of complacency by such questions? She reminds us of the poet Keats who died at 23 of tuberculosis, his life’s work and love unfulfilled, thinking he had forever to do all he wanted.

Let me be urgent as a knife Oliver says here and in ways she does throughout her poetry: pay attention to the world, be here, don’t wait. It never hurts to be reminded that each day is important and won’t be repeated despite our groundhog sense of these days now. Perhaps this poem may be a prod for you today.

21 thoughts on “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac by Mary Oliver

  1. Thank you, Jan. Reading your post, I can’t help but pause and drink in the lush orange and red of the leaves outside my window. They may be here tomorrow, or not – as you say, “life and death being unpredictable.”. “There is so much to admire, so much to weep over.” Love – Mary Lou

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  2. Wow Jan. I needed this poem today – thank you! Once again Mary Oliver inspires me with her beautifully expressed wise words – as you do with yours. Life is precious and this is such a wonderful reminder to breathe in each and every moment and make it meaningful.
    Lisa xoxo

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  3. “I know you never intended to be in this world but you’re in it all the same. So why not get on with it immediately.” Mary Oliver sometimes takes your breath away. Thank you Janice

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  4. Thanks for this beautiful poem Jan. I love Mary Oliver. She’s so connected to the land, to nature, to life. “…get started immediately belonging to it” is exactly what I need to hear, the “prod” to wake up and be alive and grateful for every moment, living every moment. YES!!

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  5. It should be mentioned that the fourth sign of the Zodiac is Cancer. I listened recently to an interview that Krista Tippett did with Mary Oliver a few years before her death. She referenced the fact that she wrote this poem while she was dealing with her own diagnosis of cancer. Reading it (and the entire work) again with that fact in mind is very informative to her state of mind at the time

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