Poem of the Month: The Summer Day, Mary Oliver

As we swing into the lazy days of mid-summer, what better offering than this oft-quoted and much-loved meditation on “the universe in a grain of sand” by Mary O?

If you’re a Mary Oliver fan — and, come on, who isn’t? — you may want to know that in the second summer term of TWI (Aug 2-29), Linda Barnes will be teaching a course, “Vacationing with Mary Oliver.” Only a few spaces left — go to www.TWInstitute.net, then click on “summer courses” in the left column menu.


The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA

(c) in the name of the poet. Used for educational purposes.

Journal prompts:

  • What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
  • Start a write, “I don’t know exactly what a prayer is. I do know….” If you prefer, start a write, “I know exactly what a prayer is. This is my prayer….”
  • Take a nature walk. Observe one thing closely and in detail. Write specifically what you see, focusing on the originality and uniqueness of this one thing.
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