Happy Birthday, Mary Oliver

Happy 76th birthday to Mary Oliver, a poet I always think of when summer slips into autumn and geese fly honking overhead. Born in 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio, she spent time at both Ohio State and Vassar, but never graduated. Instead, she spent a number of years at Austerlitz, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s home, helping organize the poet’s papers and keeping Millay’s sister Norma company. It was there she met her partner, Molly Malone Cook, and the two settled in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Cook died in 2005; Oliver lives there still.

She has received a Pulitzer and a National Book Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, and numerous poetry awards, but she remains a poet of the most serene kind of simplicity and mindfulness in the natural world. In my mind she lives alongside Wendell Berry, in that her work always reminds me to stop, look up, look down, and listen to what the birds are up to—no small feat with all the other noise that fills the rest of life.

Fall Song
Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries—roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time’s measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay—how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

(Photo of Mary Oliver and her dog Percy by Rachel Giese Brown.)

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3 Comments to Happy Birthday, Mary Oliver

  1. nbm's Gravatar nbm
    September 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the poem. It’s just right.

  2. Miss T's Gravatar Miss T
    September 12, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Lovely poem!

  3. September 13, 2011 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    My dog looks at me exactly like that.

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