Thursday, September 8, 2011

End of Days

photo here
Summer is actually ending. I know by the calendar we have 13 more days, but the light looks different. I always start noticing it in mid-August, always with a pang. I get nostalgic for days that haven't even happened yet, already missing the weeks that lie ahead. This end-of-summer I've been inside more than out, and home more than bounding through the world, but I get the same longing. Longing to stretch these days out as long as I can, take in as much sunshine as I can, even if through an open front door, to sit still in the light in the hopes that time will sit still with me. There's this craving to be in as much of the world as I can, knowing the days are getting shorter and before we know it we'll be hunkering down with blankets and warm socks and big pots of soup. I thought of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver: "And who will care, who will chide you, if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?" which is from the poem below. It's the eternal encouragement to make sure my days are being spent in a way that liberates rather than cages me. Might be as simple as stepping outside for a few breaths while it is still summer, and warm and light, rather than checking email again. My mom gave me a beautiful book for my birthday this year, Ten Poems to Set You Free, and I was so happy to find this poem in it. I hadn't read it in its entirety for a long time. I read it to Luciana this morning while she was nursing. I'm going to interpret the smile she gave me as a sign she approves. One of the wonderful discoveries I've made about her is that her feet are so soft they feel like water. So if I can't get to a river to dip my feet in, I can just touch hers.

Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?
by Mary Oliver

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives---
Tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early summer, feel like?

Do you think this world is only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down with the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint that something is missing from your life!

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?

Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed, with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left---
fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you, if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put your coat on, leave your desk!

To put one's foot into the door of the grass, which is they mystery, which is death as well as life, and not be afraid!

To set one's foot in the door of death, and be overcome with amazement!

To sit down in front of the weeds, and imagine god the ten-fingered, sailing out of his house of straw,

nodding this way and that way, to the flowers of the present hour,
to the song falling from the mockingbird's pink mouth,

to the tiplets of the honeysuckle, that have opened in the night.

To sit down, like a weed among weeds, and rustle in the wind!

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

While the soul, after all, is only a window,
and the opening of the window no more difficult
than the wakening from a little sleep.

Only last week I went out among the thorns, and said to the wild roses:
deny me not,
but suffer my devotion,
Then, all afternoon, I sat among them. Maybe

I even heard a curl or two of music, damp and rouge-red,
hurrying from their stubby buds, from their delicate velvety bodies.

For how long will you continue to listen to those dark shouters, caution and prudence?
Fall in! Fall in!

A woman standing in the weeds.
A small boat flounders in the deep waves, and what's coming next is coming with its own heave and grace.

Meanwhile, once in a while, I have chanced, among the quick things, among the immutable.
What more could one ask?

And I would touch the faces of the daisies,
and I would bow down
to think about it.

That was then, which hasn't ended yet.

Now the sun begins to swing down. Under the peach-light,
I cross the fields and the dunes, follow the ocean's edge.

I climb. I backtrack.
I float.
I ramble my way home.

Happy falling.


  1. Beautiful poem. Thank you so much for sharing it. I needed to see those words today.

  2. I've always felt exactly the same way about the approach of fall...late summer when the light's bittersweet, a little melancholy even. I'm a huge Oliver fan but wasn't familiar with this particular poem...thanks for sharing, and for your inspiring posts. I'm enjoying Al's classes while you're away but look forward to seeing you soon and meeting the beautiful Luciana. How's Olive?

  3. love that poem ! what a wonderful time to share poetry with baby -- while breastfeeding. a great idea -- many thanks.

  4. Love Mary Oliver! Thanks for posting. The whole "10 Poems" series is amazing! XOXO