Mary Oliver
(born 1935)

Mary Oliver:
"Messenger", "Thirst"
"The Uses of Sorrow"
from Thirst (2006)

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. I love her writing about nature and insights on everyday life. My favorite Oliver poem is "Such Singing in the Wild Branches" (2003) selected for this Anthology. The three poems below are from her recent book Thirst (2006). The first poem "Messenger" defines Mary Oliver's work as a poet, her love for this world and its celebratory message and positive outlook on life. The second poem, "The Uses of Sorrow" is short in words but deep in meaning. It took her years to understand that the "box full of darkness" was not emptiness, but a great gift. I compare the gift to deep sleep that refreshes us every night and rejuvernates our being. The third poem "Thirst" is the last poem in this book of the same title. Buddha says that it's thirst (trisna) or desire which draws our ego back to earthly life again. But Mary Oliver's thirst is not for material things of this world, but prayers for goodness of the spirit— which is truly admirable.
(Peter Y. Chou)


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.

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.


Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the hour
and the bell; grant me, in your mercy,
a little more time. Love for the earth
and love for you are having such a long
conversation in my heart. Who knows what
will finally happen or where I will be sent,
yet already I have given a great many things
away, expecting to be told to pack nothing,
except the prayers which, with this thirst,
I am slowy learning.

— Mary Oliver, Thirst,
     Beacon Press, Boston, 2006, pp. 1, 52, 69

Academy of American Poets: Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver's Poems on Gratitude
Mary Oliver's Poems on Peace

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (5-21-2007)