A Poem by Mary Oliver: “Lilies”

The poet Mary Oliver was a legendary nature observer. She recorded crawling hermit crabs and moss-covered hollows, “fresh winds” and the “wild, clawed light” of the sun.

Her reverence for nature was evident – not only because she described it so frequently, but also because of its exquisite detail. Oliver wrote with the kind of precision that comes from the heightened attention of deep love. In fact, she said that discovering the woods surrounding her Ohio home — as a child enduring great hardship — saved her life.

However, Oliver’s work is not just about flora and fauna; It’s about how people interact with nature. When her poems paint the creatures of this world, she herself is part of the picture – seeing, smelling, hearing, writing. In “Lilien” their presence is explicit. As beautiful as the flowers are, she cannot identify with their detachment. If she were one, she wrote, “I think I’d wait all day / for the green face / of the hummingbird / to touch me.”

It’s this hunger — for connection, for meaning, for answers — that makes us human, Oliver suggests. Admittedly, it sounds nice to live like a lily that melts “without contradiction” on a cow’s tongue. But this poem fills me with a strange kind of pride at being part of our ever-suffering species. The most human qualities that make us feel so lonely also drive us to think and create. Perhaps they once got a little girl to wander into the Ohio woods looking for words to capture what she found.


The pdf of the original magazine page printed with a lily, a hummingbird and Van Gogh's self-portrait

Here you can enlarge the page.

https://www.theatlantic.com/books/archive/2022/05/poem-mary-oliver-lilies/629947/?utm_source=feed A Poem by Mary Oliver: “Lilies”

Jessica MacLeish

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