Remembering the great poet Mary Oliver

Ode to Mary Oliver

(September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019)

By Reinekke Lengelle


When a great poet dies the longest procession is in the rhizomes of her readers

their minds joining at some cosmic point across hemispheres to whisper reverence

sometimes even in unintentional unison,

for instance while doing the dishes

they might utter “whether or not I have ever dared to be happy”,

Or quietly on a bus home while scrolling the news,

remember that, “I don’t have to be good…I only have to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves.”


The day after the poet’s death her wish would be that we do with attention what we always do,

that we step into the fresh snow in morning

and make a pathway that a beloved once helped us clear

that instead of grieving the bride and the bridegroom,

that we feel resonance in some line she wrote or solace in our own,

she might say that the shuffle of our boots will help us find the rhythm.

Stop in the middle of the driveway, lean on the handle,

and remember that she helped us “determine to save the only life we could save…”

and that we did not have the answer for anyone else, acknowledging only their precious place “in the family of things”.

Quoted partial lines from Mary Oliver’s Poems “Wild Geese”, “Morning Poem” and “The Journey” and allusions made to “When Death Comes”.