How to Make Your Dull Life Seem Magical

Earnest Shepherd, Mole in "Wind in the Willows"

Earnest Shepherd, Mole in “Wind in the Willows”

Our lawn has been invaded by moles. The bad news is that our front yard is a mess. The good news is that I now have an excuse to share a great Mary Oliver poem.

In many of her lyrics, Oliver takes a cue from Robert Frost and uses things in nature to prompt an exploration of human dramas. “Moles” appears, at first glance, to be an existential parable about our meaningless lives. She could be talking about Camus’ Sisyphus as she describes the moles pushing against the earth:

so willing to continue
generation after generation
accomplishing nothing
but their brief physical lives
as they live and die,
pushing and shoving
with their stubborn muzzles against
the whole earth…

Earlier, however, she has hinted that their lives may not be as bleak as they seem. After all, their underground caverns are filled with treasures. Or at least treasures from a mole’s point of view:

traveling
among the pale girders
of appleroot,
rockshelf, nests
of insects and black
pastures of bulbs
peppery and packed full
of the sweetest food:
spring flowers.

These lines set up an unexpected reversal in the last two lines. Here’s the poem:

Moles

By Mary Oliver

Under the leaves, under
the first loose
levels of earth
they’re there — quick
as beetles, blind
as bats, shy
as hares but seen
less than these —
traveling
among the pale girders
of appleroot,
rockshelf, nests
of insects and black
pastures of bulbs
peppery and packed full
of the sweetest food:
spring flowers.
Field after field
you can see the traceries
of their long
lonely walks, then
the rains blur
even this frail hint of them —
so excitable,
so plush,
so willing to continue
generation after generation
accomplishing nothing
but their brief physical lives
as they live and die,
pushing and shoving
with their stubborn muzzles against
the whole earth,
finding it
delicious.

In other words, it doesn’t not matter if you appear to be accomplishing nothing. It doesn’t matter if you are introverted and invisible. It doesn’t matter if the little disturbance you make in life’s surface will vanish with a rain or two.  It doesn’t matter (to quote from the famous “Now let us praise famous men” passage from Book of Ecclesiasticus) that we may be like those who “have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.”

No, what matters is that we came to life open to what it had to offer and that we properly appreciated its treasures.

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