Hearing the Sound of Roses Singing

wild roses

Spiritual Sunday

We buried the ashes of an old family friend and neighbor yesterday. Jean Yeatman, whose death I wrote about in August, was an ardent nature lover, and I believe the following poem will be distributed in a follow-up memorial service to be held this afternoon.

I’ve written many times about how Mary Oliver, although she almost never mentions religion in her poems, nevertheless writes poetry suffused with images of suffering redeemed by grace. Every once in a while, as if to tip her hand, she lets drop a religious word. Here she writes, “I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.”

Lovely though the poem is, it doesn’t entirely fit Jean, who was not the recluse that Mary Oliver is. Jean constantly invited people to accompany her on nature walks, horse back riding, and cave exploring. That didn’t make her immersion in nature any the less, however. People have different ways of praying.

The love expressed is very much the same, however.

How I Go to the Woods

By Mary Oliver

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours. 

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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