It’s spring! The world is waking up again. Mary Oliver’s “Morning Poem” reminds us of the constant cycle of new beginnings.
In midwinter, it can be hard to really believe that the world will be green and full of life again. Even if we know it intellectually, we can have a tough time trusting in our bones that there will be change and rebirth.
“Morning Poem” reminds us of the life force that is still present, even at those moments when we are struggling and in pain. And, like so many of Mary Oliver‘s poems, “Morning Poem” is in dialogue with the cycles of life—of death and birth, sadness and gladness, despondency and hope.
The poem’s close observations of the natural world are also inquiries into our own place in these cycles for in Oliver’s poems, the natural world is never just out there, but something that humans are inextricably a part of. The inner and outer inter-are, as Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says.
Here is the whole poem, and then I offer some reflections and writing prompts from it:
Mary Oliver: Morning Poem
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches–
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead–
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging–
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted–
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
I invite you to explore my reflections and writing prompts below.
They—like all writing—is even more fun to do after meditating. Try my meditation for writers below. Click to download the recording to do now or any time you want a little centering.
REFLECTIONS AND PROMPTS for MARY OLIVER’S MORNING POEM
*Oliver suggests that some people have the “nature” to be happy, and she seems, at first read, to imply, then, that some people don’t have that nature. But the language that she uses is very carefully chosen. What do you think of this aspect of the poem? Perhaps we all have the internal “nature” to be happy, but only some of us carry internal thorns?
*What do you make of the phrases “ever dared to be happy”/ “ever dared to pray”? Does happiness and prayer require daring? How?
*How is the morning created each day? What else created each day in your life, literally or metaphorically?
*Use these six words in a poem/ essay/ story/ reflection: fasten, lilies, happy, trails, beast, shouting. I suggest downloading one of my meditation recordings before writing. It can really deepen the writing experience.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and/or share your writing.
Oliver has been a huge influence on my own life and work, and you can watch me—and other wonderful panelists—discuss her work at a tribute held by the Mass. Poetry Society here.
If you enjoyed Mary Oliver’s “Morning Poem,” explore other Mary Oliver poems in the blog posts below.