Poetry Sunday: The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

This may be my favorite of Mary Oliver's poems. It is certainly in the top five. And it is one of her most famous, deservedly so. I am particularly struck by the lines that say "I don't know exactly what a prayer is, but I know how to pay attention," and I can only smile my assent to that. Perhaps that is enough. The question she asks in the last lines may be the most important one that we all have to answer: What will we do with our one wild and precious life?  

The Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

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?


  1. It is so perfect. It encapsulates my life and beliefs and I hope that I have used my one wild and precious life well. There is not much time to make amends if I have failed.

  2. Love this! There are so many great lines in it. I love 'how to be idle and blessed' as well as the last two. I need to read more of her poetry. :D

  3. This is one of my favorite poems. Perhaps my favorite except for a couple of Frost's poems.

  4. I love this one so much! Mary Oliver looks closely at a creature I have seen my whole life, and yet she points out things I have overlooked---a reminder to me to slow down, look, savor, enjoy.


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