Poem of the Month: Peonies, Mary Oliver

Peonies at Denver Botanic Garden, May 2016

May is my favorite month, both because it’s my birthday month (the 12th!) and because of flowers, buds, new leaves and warm sun. Heat comes on quickly in Colorado, so May is a welcome bridge into full-on summer.

May is also the month when the botanic gardens’ peony bushes are in full glorious bloom and my one single Sarah Lawrence bush explodes. This year I’m expecting a delectable froth, because last year the peony bush was mashed down by two late spring snowstorms,  
Thus, all that blossoming energy went back inside.  I can’t wait! So I’ll read Mary O’s poem every day until they bloom–and then every day more while they blossom!


This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

-Mary Oliver

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


Journal prompts:

  • What in nature is “getting ready to break (your) heart” wide open this spring?
  • Write about your garden, if you have one, or a garden that you have had in the past or a garden you frequently visit.
  • Write about a time you were briefly “wild and perfect.” If you can’t think of a time, make one up. Or create a character who is a lot like you (but isn’t you). Place her/him in a scene in which a wild and perfect experience is about to happen. Write that story.
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