May 27, 2023

Attention Is the Beginning of Devotion

Mary Oliver has published many books of poetry and is best known as a poet, but included in her 25 books is also prose and one of those books is Upstream. It is a collection of essays about her relationship to the natural world, and how it influences her writing and reading.

In the title essay of that book, she describes getting lost in the woods as a child. You would expect her to have been fearful, but she says she had “the sense of going toward the source.”

“One tree is like another, but not too much.
One tulip is like the next tulip, but not altogether.” 

The essay asks all of us to teach and show children how to notice the world. She suggests that we stand them in a creek and walk upstream, noticing the sticks, rocks, leaves, flowers, and insects. All of those things seem silent, but they're not. You need to listen. Attention is the beginning of devotion. 

In a 2015 interview on the radio program On Being, Oliver talked about all this and especially how walking and writing in the woods saved her life.

One of her best-known poems is "Wild Geese." I can imagine her walking in the woods and hearing, then seeing, those geese above her, heading somewhere unknown.


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1 comment:

  1. This is truly so lovely to even think about!
    I found myself resonating with the line, "She had the sense of going toward the source".
    Thank you for writing this!


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