Poetry is a mysterious messenger. There is something about poetry that draws me in, and also intimidates me. Most of the time I really enjoy it, but sometimes when I read a poem, I just “don’t get it.” I start questioning myself, wondering what poetry gene I must be missing since apparently everybody else understands the secret message but me. I suspect there is some danger in thinking this way. Maybe group consensus about a poet’s intentions doesn’t really matter, only that the reader receives the message intended for their own heart. If I let myself get too focused on my ability to divine the “accurate” meaning intended by the poet, I might just miss the trueness of the poem for me.
Part of the mystery of poetry is that a message can be sent over the vastness of time and space that continues to resonate in the human heart centuries later. The works of Rumi, a Persian poet from the 13th century, are deeply appreciated and valued in America today. It is a powerful thing to connect at a heart level with people. Somehow we are all connected at this level, and there is the greatest mystery. The specifics of what a poet was thinking about when they wrote, and the language of trueness that resonates regardless of those specifics, are two different things. I don’t want to mistake one for the other.
Mary Oliver is one of America’s most popular contemporary poets. In her text, A Poetry Handbook, she says, “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.” If you are a person who lives from your heart, then I suspect you also believe this to be true. We need people to reach out to us, to sing their song, to show their splendid colors, to share their essence with us. We need music and dance, poetry and song to help us understand life, to help us live – to help us connect.
Seldom do I read something that so connects and challenges me to “live well” as Mary Oliver’s When Death Comes. I want to share it with you, in hopes that it will connect and challenge you to “live well, live deeply, live completely.” This is the sincere hope of The Society, that along your way through life you will hear the message of trueness in poetry, music, beauty, love, and life-giving things, and that when you come to the end of your days you will find that you have truly lived.
When Death Comes
Mary Oliver – New and Selected PoemsWhen death comes like a hungry bear in autumn; when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me, and snaps the purse shut; when death comes like the measle-pox; when death comes like and iceberg between the shoulder blades, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness? And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and sisterhood, and I look upon time as no more than an idea, and I consider eternity as another possibility, and I think of each life as a flower, as common as a field daisy, and as singular, and each name a comfortable music in the mouth, tending, as music does, towards silence, and each body a lion of courage, and something precious to the earth. When it’s over, I want to say; all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up having simply visited this world.