Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

When Death Comes (for Mary Oliver)

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Have you heard? Mary Oliver has died. The best beloved poet of our time? Yes. Maybe. But I’m sure – not only in my mind.

She walked in beauty, like the night.

I’ve given her collection Devotions to more people than I can remember. I loved Dog Songs as much as one can love a book of poetry. It’s joyful! And funny! Sometimes sad. (And about dogs.)

When I putter around my yard and notice the way one leaf nestles up to another, I hear Mary Oliver whispering between them. Or whispering to me: listen. Pepper hears her murmurings too among trees and squirrels (that’s what she said).

She walked in beauty, like the night – of cloudless climes and starry skies. And all that’s best of dark and bright met in her aspect and her eyes. And in her lines. (Thanks – and apologies – Lord Byron.)

I never met Mary Oliver. I never especially wanted to. But the gift she’s given me in her words is the gift of light – and hope – and despair – and always – finally – wonder. And love. Her words are enough.

Here’s one of her poems for today.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

—Mary Oliver

 

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(Photos from my house, from my Iphone. Today.)

 

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