Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

I had this poem memorized in college.  I read it for the first time in a course called 'Campus Ecology' and taped it into all of my notebooks and journals.  The course was taught by a one of my favorite professors who let us read David Orr and Wendell Berry and Annie Dillard and just truckloads of Mary Oliver. 

We held class on the green lawn outside Holland Hall-- our limestone castle of a history department-- and we wrote letters to our congressmen about sustainability, green fuels, and wind turbines.  Oliver's The Summer Day became our anthem.  As Joan Didion once so gracious offered-- Was anyone ever so young?

I still think about the poem sometimes, usually in July when the heat seems never-ending and I start dreaming of wool skirts and black tights.  Summer isn't my favorite season.

Rereading it again this year, I can't help but grimace at not only Oliver's overwrought romanticism but also at the girl who once worshiped it.  And yet as Didion also once said (Didion again, I know...) “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

So true, Joanie.  So true.

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

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?

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Just stumbled onto this post on my reader!! I have my own Mary Oliver poem from St. Olaf "Wild Geese." Liked the Didion quote at the end.