Back Talk: Mary Oliver’s “The Ponds”

“Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.”

– Mary Oliver, “The Ponds” (House of Light)

I’ve a particular soft spot for Mary Oliver. She’s a true literary gem. One of my biggest influences, my high school English teacher, first introduced me to her, and, in writing about me for the Outstanding Senior portion of our yearbook, he quoted this very poem. He claimed the last few lines (“I want to believe…And I do.”) reminded him of me, and I like to believe he saw in me the unrelenting optimism I’m trying so hard to keep. That’s what I see in these Oliver stanzas – I want to see the beauty of life even as I weather the storm, and, perhaps, this can remind me.

And, as always, Oliver’s gorgeous reminder, the mantra I try so hard to repeat:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

– Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”
(The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays)

Read her stuff – it’s rull, rull good.
Happy summer, y’all.


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