Monday, March 26, 2012

The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Four (Oliver)

Wow! I can't believe we're already to the fourth poem of The Mnemosyne Weekly! I'll never be bored standing in line again. I'll never be at a loss for words. I've got the perfect toast, the perfect advice, the perfect words of comfort poised on the tip of my tongue. And I am filled with beauty, joy, love, nature, art, wisdom, grace, and a little pathos too, thanks to Lee, Rilke, and Dickinson.

This week's poem, as you may have discerned from the photo, is by Mary Oliver. Most of you probably already know that Oliver was recently diagnosed with a serious illness, and her fans, friends, and the poetry community are rallying around her. A good friend of mine, Paula Todd King, suggested that, as a way of joining in this support, we should memorize a poem by Oliver this week. In full and heartfelt agreement, I asked Paula to select the poem. As well, I've started a list of poems suggestions, so please keep those titles coming. It stretches us all to memorize poems selected by others, especially poems we may not have chosen ourselves.

Also, please keep making comments in the sections under the postings. I love hearing what you think about the poems and what your experiences are of memorizing them. I'm keeping my own comments about the poems restricted to these sections, as well, so that we can approach the postings of the new poems with clean, fresh, beginner's minds each week. Here is last week's posting, if you want to leave comments about Rilke's "Sonnet I.3" from Sonnets to Orpheus: The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Three. As well, if you're new to the blog, you might want to look at the first Mnemosyne post to find out what this project is all about. 

Here is your poem for the week. It comes from the collection called Blue Iris. As well, here is an interview Maria Shriver conducted with Mary Oliver for Oprah:! 

And, once again, thanks to everyone who is participating!

How Would You Live Then?

What if a hundred rose-breasted grosbeaks
blew in circles around your head? What if
the mockingbird came into the house with you and
became your advisor? What if
the bees filled your walls with honey and all
you needed to do was ask them and they would fill
the bowl? What if the brook slid downhill just
past your bedroom window so you could listen
to its slow prayers as you fell asleep? What if
the stars began to shout their names, or to run
this way and that way above the clouds? What if
you painted a picture of a tree, and the leaves
began to rustle, and a bird cheerful sang
from its painted branches? What if you suddenly saw
that the silver of water was brighter than the silver
of money? What if you finally saw
that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day
and every day -- who knows how, but they do it -- were
more precious, more meaningful than gold?


  1. I love, love, love this poem, Melissa. It reminds me of a precious picture book called 'The Salamander Room' by Anne Mazer and illustrated by Steve Johnson. In the book, a little boy finds a salamander. When his mother asks him how he will care for this obviously outside creature inside their home, the little boy explains to her over the next several pages how he'll change his room to make it a happy and healthy environment for his new friend. As the boy imagines the changes necessary for his salamander, we see the room slowly change from an indoor space to a beautiful outdoor glade. In other words, it brings the outdoors inside. This poem does the same for me. Both are poignant reminders of the value of nature. Thanks! :)

  2. I'm so glad you love this poem. I'm excited about memorizing it. I've never heard of the picture book, but it sounds wonderful!! Thank you for telling me about it. Have you heard of 'The Tin Garden'? That's a similar book that Rosalind and I both love.

  3. I love the poem also ~ posed as a list of questions - the old schoolteacher in me considers ... -the old "teacher's pet" student in me considers: shall I answer this poem with one answer? shall I answer with an answer for each "What if"? It is a delightful selection deserving of a group sharing in my "Little Adventures in Perfect Literacy" series. [I am sorely tempted to upgrade my membership level to: active, participating (from merely contributing)- [advanced with tentative innergie]

  4. a good start, I am enJoyed with the lines, the construction the inner simplicity & the dynamic premise ...... I can read the poem now ~ full memorization may not come within this week (it is a trait of my age in many aspects; I have accepted the myth of aging - for the nonce.)

  5. Great minds think alike! The first thing I thought was that I would like to answer the questions. What a prompt that would be. I hope you upgrade to active!

  6. This ended up being one of my favorites so far. The structure is quite different from that of the others, and I found that the questions, rather than losing intensity due to familiarity, only became more compelling over time. It never, ever ceased to thrill me to think about the mockingbird coming into my home and becoming my advisor, and each time I thought about it, I liked the idea more.

    The use of the second person and the questions - both of these devices - worked to fully engage me with the poem. Yet, there is something about the directness of the lines that kept me thinking more about the meaning than the techniques, which is great. The language is, in many ways, transparent, allowing the beautiful messages and images to be the rightful stars of the show.