Friday, December 20, 2013

I Wish I'd Written This

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?

Here is another one I think lots of people will know — and if so, I'm sure you'll love to read it again. She's a favourite poet of many people including me. This is one of the first Mary Oliver poems I ever encountered, decades ago now. I instantly wished I'd written it — and many of her others too. I dearly love her aesthetic of using simple, accessible language, and her fresh eye on nature.

For instance, what a wonderful picture of a grasshopper, above! Through her eyes we see the grasshopper as a real character, not merely a thing. Mary Oliver not only loves nature; she has great respect for it too.

It's the last two lines that bring us up short. Such a powerful question! It reverberates forever after. (Well, it did for me.)

Christmas is nearly here for the many around the world who observe it, in either a religious or secular way. For myself, I observe the Solstice, which in my part of the world at this time is the Summer Solstice. Even without the title, we would know that this is a summer poem, wouldn't we, with the strolling through the fields and falling down in the grass? And it is a spiritual poem in its way. Also it seems to me a joyful one to give you, at a time which is traditionally associated with joy.

In 2010 Sherry Blue Sky wrote a comprehensive profile of Mary Oliver for the Poet History feature we were running then, which you can find here.

How lucky we all are that Oliver is a prolific poet, as you can see at her Amazon page. She has also written how-to books on the writing of poetry, which you will find there as well: A Poetry Handbook and Rules for the Dance.

She is an acclaimed reader too, and here she is on YouTube reading the poem The Summer Day. I found this lovely interview with her on YouTube too. And here is the link to other YouTube readings and interviews.

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).


  1. Mary Oliver is absolutely my most favorite poet in the world...thank you for sharing this beautiful poem, which resonates for me every time I read it.

  2. I gobbled up every word here, Rosemary, with delight. She is a wonder!!!!! We had our first real snowfall over night, so we are right in winter solstice now.......which has its own beauty. Thanks for this glimpse of summer through a beloved poet's eyes.

  3. This was the first poem of hers that I was ever shown, and it still is perhaps my favorite. It also helped me rediscover the path to my own writing. Happy Solstice, Rosemary, and thank you. ~M

  4. Rosemary, I absolutely love this poem you shared. The words...

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

    really make a person think.

  5. Thank you so much for bringing this poem to me! I really loved it. What beauty there is in "wild and precious life!"

  6. Just wonderful..I'm glad I stopped by here this evening!

  7. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. I love how she unites us with nature with such beautiful language. Life is indeed, "wild and precious." Love this poem!


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