Stamp Falls, Vancouver Island
Today, kids, as part of Real Toads My Favo(u)rite Poem series, I offer for your delight and delectation The Leaf and the Cloud by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver, my favourite poet of all time. The poem is an entire slim volume of 53 pages. Warning: once you open it, you will not stop reading until you have finished the poem. It is even better read aloud to someone you love, before a flickering fire, or while someone is driving you along the seashore. A fire on the beach, with the music of the waves as accompaniment, and you'll be transported to another plane entirely. (Note: none of these possible scenarios has ever happened to me. But a gal can dream!)
I have a habit of earmarking certain pages so I can find my favourite passages easily. In this little book, nearly every page is turned down. Line after spectacular line follows each other down the page. Truly this is her Magnum Opus of poems. Her love letter to life, with a hint of farewell, as she is aging.
I will include a few of my favourite excerpts, and you can track down others by clicking on the links and exploring. But best of all is to read the entire poem, in sequence. It is a meditation on life and death, on love and loss, and especially on the richness and beauty of the natural world, described as only Mary Oliver can describe it.
Her parents, her big dog, Luke, her later dog, Ben, with his "sweet wild eyes", time and eternity - all make an appearance. Through Mary Oliver's eyes, the earth shines with a radiance that stays with one. After turning the final page, one wants to sit on the porch in the afternoon sun and just "stare at the world", as Mary does, every day. In describing what she sees, she helps us to see the world anew, all bright and shining and, in every inch, alive.
Let's dive in.
Welcome to the silly comforting poem.
The poem is not the world.
It isn't even the first page of the world.
But the poem wants to flower like a flower.
It knows that much.
It wants to open itself
like the door of a little temple,
so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed,
and less yourself than part of everything.
When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,
like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.
Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.
Let grief be your sister, she will whether or no.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.
A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.
Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.
In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.
Live with the beetle, and the wind.
This is the dark bread of the poem.
This is the dark and nourishing bread of the poem.
I am a woman sixty years old and of no special courage.
Everyday - a little conversation with God, or his envoy
the tall pine, or the grass-swimming cricket.
Everyday-I study the difference between water and stone.
Everyday - I stare at the world; I push the grass aside
and stare at the world.
I am thinking : maybe just looking and listening
is the real work.
Maybe the world, without us,
is the real poem.
Goodbye to the goldfinches
in their silver baskets.
Goodbye to the pilot whales, and the curl of their spines
in the crisp waves.
Goodbye to the grasshopper.
Goodbye to the pond lilies, the turtle with her
Goodbye to the lion's mane floating in the harbor
like a spangled veil.
Goodbye to the moon uprising in the east.
Goodbye to the going forth, and coming home.
Goodbye to the going forth, and holding on, and worrying.
Goodbye to the engine of breath.
The knee sings its anguish.
The ears fill with the sound of ringing water.
The muscles of the eyes pull towards sleep.
up the hill,
like a thicket of white flowers,
This is the poem of goodbye.
And this is the poem of don't know.
My hands touch the lilies
my hands touch the blue iris
and I say, not easily but carefully --
the words round in the mouth, crisp on the tongue --
dirt, mud, stars, water-
I know you as if you were myself.
How could I be afraid?
Think of me
when you see the evening star.
Think of me when you see the wren
the flowing root of the creek beneath him,
dark silver and cold
Remember me I am the one who told you
he sings for happiness.
I am the one who told you
that the grass is also alive, and listening.
sighs the pale green moth
on the screen door,
the red tongues of the white swans
shine out of their black beaks
as they shout
as their wings rise and fall
rise and fall
oh rise and fall
through the raging flowers of the snow.