If I were asked to nominate an RN Poet Laureate I would for sure nominate Mary Oliver. In the forthcoming second edition of The Sacred Depths of Nature I include four of her vibrant poems, and post them below in their book-embedded context.
1. In many religious contexts, Purpose is spelled with a capital P — as in what is the Purpose of my life? Monotheistic credos tell us that one’s Purpose is to act out the will of God. The religious naturalist instead joins the East Asian religions in dwelling within a lower-case understanding of purpose: the exuberant purposive dynamics that spring forth from every creature, every self, and infuse our every moment.
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
— Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
2. With this comes the understanding that I am in charge of my own unfolding, my own emergence. It is not something that I must wait for, or pray for, but something to participate in achieving, something to delight in achieving.
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
— Mary Oliver, When I Am Among the Trees
3. The development of mindfulness, like the development of virtue, is described an ongoing process, animated by new understandings, ready for surprise. It entails both the acquisition of knowledge and a connection with what you come to know. As you become mindful of something, your feelings and your behavior towards it are transformed as well. It becomes a part of your being.
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
— Mary Oliver, Mindful
4. Religion. From the Latin religare, to bind together. The same linguistic root as ligament. We have throughout the ages sought, and found, religious fellowship with one another. And now we realize that we are connected to all creatures. Not just in food chains and ecological equilibria. We share common ancestry. We share genes for receptors and ion pumps and signal transduction cascades. We share evolutionary constraints and possibilities. We share the same basic aims and purpose. We are connected all the way down.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
— Mary Oliver, Wild Geese