How Mary Oliver Healed My Soul


We lost one of my most beloved poets yesterday. The incomparable Mary Oliver. Since I first started sharing poems here, she is the poet I return to again and again.

Her poems are deceptively simple, but her celebration of the intersection between the human and the natural world stirred my soul deeply.   All healing is a road back home to our original selves and I believe that poetry is one of the greatest means of finding our way back. For me, Mary Oliver brought me back home to myself many times over.

She first started writing poetry at aged thirteen.  In an interview, she described how walking the woods was her escape from an unhappy home life: a sexually abusive father, a neglectful mother. “It was a very dark and broken house that I came from,”  she said. “I made a world out of words and it was my salvation.”

The first time I ever heard of her wasn’t a poem, but one line from her poem

Telll me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

I still get chills every time I hear it.

It’s hard to pick just one favorite poem.  Snatches of lines keep coming to me today.
From Wild Geese:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I used that line about finding your place in the family of things when I spoke at Standford  University about the power of online peer-to-peer support and I think of it often when I put together the weekly round-up.

I’ve settled on The Journey to share with you today.  When people criticize my use of the word Journey to describe this blog, I return to this poem to remind myself of the true meaning of the word for me.

The Journey

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.