Poetry Sunday: In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver is a contemporary American poet who often uses metaphors from the natural world in her poems. I've featured several of her poems here before but never this one. In this summer of wildfires, it seems particularly apropos as she describes a forest being devastated by fire and then in her last couple of stanzas relates that to the human experience. 

In Blackwater Woods

by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
 
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
 
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
 
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
 
nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned
 
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
 
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
 
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
 
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

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