Friday, March 11, 2011

And did you see it, finally?

Artist: James Audubon

An important function of Lenten disciplines is to help us cultivate awareness. It's so easy to go through life on auto-pilot if we never deliberately and intentionally do something to interrupt our routine, our habitual tendencies.

Today, I want to share with you a Mary Oliver poem and I also want to recommend really paying attention to the last two questions posed at the end. Our change in routine this Lent (whatever it is) can help us come to the kind of awareness that will make exploring the questions more accessible:

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?


  1. Oh, I just love this. Many thanks! It called to my mind what Simone Weil said about beauty: "Beauty is a providential dispensation by which truth and justice, while still unrecognized, call silently for our attention."

  2. I'm so glad you like it, Heather. I love Mary Oliver's work. Needless to say, Simone Weil was no slouch either. Thanks for the quotation. It's a good one.

  3. I had never heard of Mary Oliver. How lovely her poetry is! Thanks for introducing me to her work!

  4. Even I, who am not a great appreciator of poetry, find this poem beautiful. It's like a beautiful photograph or painting in words. But then I suppose that's part of the point, yes? : ) Love the accompanying painting as well.

  5. To both Helen and Tom here: Mary Oliver is undoubtedly the best lyric poet writing today. I absolutely LOVE her stuff.

    Here are the poems of hers I've posted right here on this blog:

    M.O. poems

    (There's one Annie Dillard passage thrown in because I mentioned Mary Oliver in the body of the post)

    And here are some posted on another blog of mine:

    more M.O. poems


    (By the way, Blogger blogs have an internal search engine - see upper left corner - whenever you want to look for something blog-wide.)

  6. Interesting. I read and liked all of the poems you posted by Mary Oliver. It took me too long to get with the one by Annie Dillard, but it turned out to be useful that you posted it with the poems of Mary Oliver. What I discovered is that I can appreciate a poem that is clear and simple and where the writer doesn’t put himself or herself in the way nor exhibit what I too often hear as the pretentious voice that is akin to certain reviews of wine given by sommeliers – that come with a rather smug and aloof tone of voice; or the equally pretentious review of a work in a museum that is nothing more than a blue background with a large red dot in one corner.

  7. I know the above isn't always true any more than it is always true that a book on systematic theology that may be incomprehensible to a lay person is therefore nonsense - though I have come to have little use for systematic theology. Perhaps it was Annie Dillard’s implication that secrecy is absent in the Eucharist that confused me. I think all Christian symbols/sacraments have about them an air of secrecy. Ironically, however, I have come to view the Eucharist as being more in accord with Annie Dillard’s analogy. Why then did I write all of this? I suppose primarily because, though I can personally identify with Ms. Dillard’s analogy, I think I am put off by her first sentence. On second and third readings I realized that the first sentence diverted my attention so strongly from the rest of the poem that I found it difficult to switch gears to hear the poetic truth that followed it. In my estimation the poem is complete without the first sentence, yet because of it is obscured because the first sentence makes it about Annie Dillard and why she had come to wherever. I find it happens much too often in poetry, as with the sommelier, that the writer somehow gets in the way of the message.

  8. I could contemplate all day on the question, "...have you finally figured out...what beauty is for"?

    What a great and provocative question to ponder...
    annie c


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