April 27th, 2012

ppbk cover

What Is Your Work?

Yesterday was Poem in Your Pocket Day, part of the celebration of National Poetry Month. One of my favorite poets is Mary Oliver. I want to touch on two of her poems. The first is called The Summer Day:

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?

And the other one I want to share is called Messenger:

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

I love the way she strings words together and the way she evokes so much feeling and meaning with so few words. I bolded the parts of these two poems that particularly speak to me. It's that question: What is it you plan to do with this life you've been given? What is your work? Not the job you go to each day necessarily, but what is it you bring to the world? For Mary Oliver, observing the world, being astonished by it and sharing that glory is her work. And maybe we all have more than one thing: like loving our kids and our partners, being there for our friends, etc. But when it just comes down to what you are putting out into the world, what difference you are making, whether it's through your job or your community service or your writing, what will you choose?