Mary Oliver had a daily writing ritual of carrying a notebook with her as she walked through the forest. She wrote along the way. I think she needed nature and movement to find the words.
In an interview, she said
“I don’t like buildings. The only record I broke in school was truancy. I went to the woods a lot with books. Whitman in the knapsack. But I also liked motion. So I just began with these little notebooks and scribbled things as they came to me and then worked them into poems later.”
I imagine that one of those poems is “The Pond
.” I particularly like the conclusion:
This is how it has been, and this is how it is:
All my life I have been able to feel happiness,
except whatever was not happiness,
which I also remember.
Each of us wears a shadow.
But just now it is summer again
and I am watching the lilies bow to each other,
then slide on the wind and the tug of desire,
close, close to one another,
Soon now, I’ll turn and start for home.
And who knows, maybe I’ll be singing.
In the title of her collection, Why I Wake Early,
you learn of another of her daily habits. Those early morning walks and encounters with poems on crickets, toads, trout lilies, black snakes, goldenrod, bears, and deer inspired poems and in greeting the morning, she found happiness.
Her first collection, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984 for the collection American Primitive.
What connects all the poems is nature: hummingbirds, waterfalls, owls, trees, the ocean, snakes, wild geese, storms, sand crabs and changing seasons. Of course, from those specifics, the poems expand to larger themes like love, loss, joy, wonder, and gratitude.
A good starting place to read Mary Oliver is Devotions
, the book in which she collected the poems she felt gave the best overview of her writing.