Vanishing into something better

Mary Oliver showed us how to take the world into our arms

‘May I stay forever in the stream’ / Kennedy Warne

On cold winter nights, Mary Oliver wrote in her poem “In Praise of Craziness, of a Certain Kind,” her deranged grandmother would spread newspapers on the floor of her porch so that ants could crawl beneath them and keep warm. Such kindness from a woman “with ownership of half her mind—the other half having flown back to Bohemia,” prompted in Oliver the wish that when she, too, was “struck by the lightning of years,” she should prove as loving.

And so it turned out. Love for the small, the meek, the insignificant and the overlooked became a hallmark of the beloved American poet, who died this month, aged 83.

Whether she was writing about finches bathing in a puddle or mussels clinging to the sea rocks of Provincetown, Massachusetts, her home for more than 50 years, whether of oaks or otters, geese or green beans, her affectionate regard cast a glow around these ordinary things, restoring to them the luminous worth that a careless mind misses. And being herself restored in the process.

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