Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"The Journey," by Mary Oliver

(I did not know this poem before tonight, but then I saw it quoted on a friend's Facebook profile and Googled it, and my goodness . . . That series of connections shows why the Internet is great, and this shows why poetry is even better.)

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice--

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

"Mend my life!"

each voice cried.

But you didn't stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do--

determined to save

the only life you could save.


  1. "The Journey" is the first poem I copied out into my Poetry Journal/Commonplace Book. I re-read it often. I just mentioned it over at Tanita Davis' blog as one of the things I would send my teenaged self in a time machine. And someone posted it in response to the other Mary Oliver poem I shared last Friday.

    Connections, indeed.

  2. Oooh, I love that. I've never read it before. Thanks for sharing :-)

  3. wonderful. thanks for sharing it here.

  4. Wow. I'll be reading this one over again--slowly.

  5. This is one of my absolute favorites. Someone shared it with me when I was at a major crossroads in my life. Now, whenever I have friends who are also facing a big transition I send them this poem! : )

  6. Good stuff. I am saving this one for my son's graduation. Thanks for posting!

  7. Sara, that was me!

    I'm a Mary Oliver junkie. I have "The Journey" taped to my computer, "Wild Geese" tacked to my monitor, "The Ponds" on my desk, and "Reckless Poem" (compliments of Sara) taped to the wall behind me.

    She reminds me of the British Romantics in her use of nature, but at the same time feels so much more accessible and earthy-- I can feel her words between my fingers.

    Gosh, I love this woman. I could go on forever, but I won't.

    I'll just also recommend "Morning Poem" and "Peonies."

  8. I didn't know this one either. Terrific poem. I'm going to print it out and save it. Thanks so much for sharing.

  9. Thanks for posting this poem! It is perfect for me.

    I took a long "journey" of my own in regards to schooling and career, but after much hard work and perseverance I am graduating with my BA today!

    So, thanks for the excellent posts, and the encouragement you unknowingly dispense...

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  11. I just mentioned it over at Tanita Davis' blog as one of the things I would send my teenaged self in a time machine. And someone posted it in response to the other Mary Oliver poem I shared last Friday.

  12. I came across this poem a few months after my closest friend of 35 years decided she had had enough of her miserable battle with MS (the disease was progressing at lightning speed) and made the decision to bring that fight to an end on her own terms. When I read 'The Journey,' I found I could only think of her and her tremendous nerve and determination at the end of her journey. Every time I read it again, I feel her strength.

    I posted this Mary Oliver poem about writing on my blog not long ago: