Wander Slowly through the Forest

Vincent Van Gogh, "Trees and Undergrowth"

Vincent Van Gogh, “Trees and Undergrowth”

Spiritual Sunday

I leave my mother and wife tomorrow to return to Maryland to begin teaching again. In addition to these important people in my life, I will miss my mother’s 17 acres of mountaintop forest, which border a lake and are within sight of the bluff.

In “Leaves and Blossoms along the Way,” Mary Oliver reminds me that, if I can’t continue living in Sewanee, Tennessee, I can “at least dream of it.” “All important ideas,” Oliver, writes, “must include the trees, the mountains, and the rivers.”

Oliver’s poem, like much of her poetry, veers between the sensual and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible, the explainable and the ineffable, that which can be said and that which can’t. Oliver tells us to open ourselves to “God or the gods,” to listen for “the words that will never leave God’s mouth,” to linger in the wind and the rain and to wander slowly through forests,

To open ourselves to that which is beyond ourselves, the starting point for Oliver is the perceiving, sensing, experiencing self.

Leaves and Blossoms along the Way

By Mary Oliver

If you’re John Muir you want trees to
live among. If you’re Emily, a garden
will do.
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.

When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow.  

Anything that touches.                      


God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,


Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen.                     


In all the works of Beethoven,
you will not find a single lie.

All important ideas must include the trees,
the mountains, and the rivers.                      


To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition.                  


For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!                    


Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing.                      


The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.

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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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