A Thousand Mornings

There’s something about the ocean –

Mary Oliver (b. 1935)

I have just recently posted the two ocean-poems; “Any fool can get into an ocean” & “Thing Language” by Jack Spicer.

Today I’ve viewed the ocean from a new perspective, through the eyes of Mary Oliver in her wonderful new book of poems called A Thousand Mornings. This is how she sees it:


I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Mary Oliver’s poetry is filled with imagery of the natural world. Oliver, whose first book was published almost 50 years ago, says her work has become more spiritual over the years:  “I think one thing is that prayer has become more useful, interesting, fruitful, and … almost involuntary in my life,” she says. “And when I talk about prayer, I mean really … what Rumi says in that wonderful line, ‘there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’ I’m not theological, specifically, I might pick a flower for Shiva as well as say the hundredth [psalm].”

Mary Oliver, 1964

What really impresses me is how Oliver manage to capture the mystery of the world, its vastness and beauty, in very simple, ordinary, everyday words. She makes it sound so easy, but of course we all know that nothing is more difficult than simplicity.


The sea can do craziness, it can do smooth,
it can lie down like silk breathing
or toss havoc shoreward; it can give

gifts and withhold all; it can rise, ebb, froth
like an incoming frenzy of fountains, or it can
sweet-talk entirely. As I can too,

and so, no doubt, can you, and you.

* * *

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jen says:

    Beautiful, and of course, my favorite topic ; simplicity. Mary looks so like my mom, born the same year as she too.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Lucky you – a mom like Mary must be great!

  2. I have been a reader of her work since 1980 when I discovered 12 Moons. It has been interesting to read as she develops her images and her spirituality. She’s prolific enough that readers can really sort of follow Oliver as she reacts to life and works through situations (environment, loss, love, spiritual things). She seldom gives public readings, but I have managed to hear her in person twice. Critics sometimes harp on her for being too predictable, but I don’t agree. I think there are “predictable” things about her poetry, but that when you read her work over the decades, and with care, her observations and her “conclusions” (she would not use that term) are not at all expected…indeed, there are constant small surprises and revelations.

    1. Sigrun says:

      I’m so glad I stumbled into her work, so many beautiful words and thoughts to discover!

  3. Cassie says:

    I really love what she says about prayer. I also really love what you discussed with the ocean. It’s like every poets endless muse. : )

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.