This week, I happened upon an interview with Mary Oliver, one of the most important and powerful poets of our time. For the hour that I listened to her through the podcast On Being, I was transported. Hearing Oliver read her own poetry certainly made the experience special, but I was also struck by her musings on the relationship between appreciation, attention and devotion, the life of the mind and the heart. I found her words to be inspiring and intimate reminders of that which is important, and especially soothing to a New Yorker's soul.
I share the interview with you because Oliver also reflects our shared vision of what the outcome of education should be: empathetic, imaginative people who engage with the world, who question, stay curious and dig in, who notice other people and pay attention to the way a grasshopper lands or the way the mushrooms grow. To get there, the learning we do needs to be feisty but steady, passionate but serious, intellectually expansive and demanding, and all the while patient.
Oliver shared that sometimes as a poet, she "takes dictation" from the world, and "listens convivially." It was a powerful reminder for me as a parent, an educator and a human.
Below is one of her poems, a longing summoning of summer. For a treat, read it out load and her how it changes. You can hear Oliver read more of her work below the interview on this page.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?