Thirst by Mary Oliver

This is my first experience with the poetry of Mary Oliver and wow what an amazing experience it was. Right off the bat I was hit with the beauty of her words. Literally, I felt like I was just struck write in the chest. Let me share with you the opening poem of this lovely volume:


My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

I just want to hang that on my wall and read it ever morning….reminding myself why I’m here. What I have to be thankful for. This collection is beautiful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s hopeful. I soon figured out after reading a few of the poems that she wrote this after losing a loved one and it sounded to me that Mary Oliver was a lesbian and had lost her partner from reading her poetry. So I went and did a wikipedia search and found that this was the truth. Thirst, this collection of poetry was written shortly after her life partner died. It was the first collection she published afterwards.

It’s not only about adjusting to life after the loss of a loved one. That emptiness, but it’s about finding hope as well. She writes about the most beautiful, quite moments with nature such as moments spent with a deer or a snake slithering over her foot. She writes about being out in her garden and being one with nature. Poetry that just filled me with such quiet love.

And then there is another part to her poetry that I didn’t expect at all, and that is about her finding a new relationship with God. This is beautiful as well, though it’s not something that I normally read. But I so enjoyed reading about Oliver’s journey into faith and her finding her own thoughts on God and her own relationship with God. She brought tears to my eyes with the shortest poem in the book that focuses both on the loss of her partner and her newfound faith. The poem is called “What I Said at Her Service” and the title itself made me cry. The poem just made me bawl, because it captures my complaint with organized religion so perfectly and why I don’t believe in it. Here it is in it’s entirety:

When we pray to love God perfectly,
surely we do not mean only.

(Lord, see how well I have done.)

So much power in just three lines of poetry. I can’t thank Lu at Regular Rumination enough for recommending Mary Oliver to me. To think that I may have never discovered her is a horrible thought! And I’m just so happy to see the amount of poetry that she has published. If it’s all half as beautiful as this collection has been, well we’re all so lucky to be able to spend time with her words.


6 Responses

  1. I just knew that you would love her. I have never read this collection but that first poem you shared has me shaking. It’s beautiful. I too want to put it up on my wall, and I think I will. Thank you for sharing it. I’m going to buy it right now.

  2. Mary Oliver’s simply blows my mind with her poetry. Here I share few lines from another favourite poem of hers from Thirst:

    “From the complications of loving you
    I think there is no end or return.
    No answer, no coming out of it.

    Which is the only way to love, isn’t it?
    This isn’t a playground; this is
    earth, our heaven, for a while.”

    — from Mary Oliver’s A Pretty Song in Thirst

  3. I’ve read more poetry in the last month than I probably have for my whole life and I’ve really been enjoying it. I read a lot of Keats and Catherynne Valente last month and am now really enjoying Edna St. Vincent Millay (someone I’m convinced you would enjoy as I see a similar spirit in her to what you’ve posted about Mary Oliver). This looks wonderful. I especially enjoy the line:

    “which is mostly standing still and learning to be

    More than ever I’m convinced that even though I am not a poet, I do have a poetic soul.

    My library unfortunately doesn’t have this so I’m going to head out to the Worldcat system to see if I can get it on Inter Library Loan. I really want to experience this book.

    And by the way, just finished and enjoyed a short story collection by Millhauser. Thanks again for introducing me.

  4. Wow…. I’m left a bit speechless, and I need to think.

  5. Another one I really like from this collection is:

    The Uses of Sorrow

    (In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

    Someone I loved once gave me
    A box full of darkness.

    It took me years to understand
    that this, too, was a gift.

    What a simple and profound poem. It clear to me that Ms. Oliver realizes that the darkness is a gift if it can be recognized, embraced and transformed into light. It’s been said paradox is language of spirituality. Perhaps that’s especially true when the “spiritual language” is poetry.

  6. excelente rales de flata y cestri con aratirio irder. nhagib a tenho y ssandrava elicaba con buitos tindentel!

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