On the Power of Poetry

Fungi on the Kanyoo Trail - photo by Karin Johnson
Fungi on the Kanyoo Trail – photo by Karin Johnson

Poetry speaks to the imagination, to the heart. When a poet walks in nature, she doesn’t just look …. she sees; she slows down long enough to experience the awe and wonder in the landscape and let it seep into her imagination. Our natural landscape, our parks, our public lands and our refuges need poets … now. We need to slow down to see the beauty in nature, refresh our souls, and be inspired to preserve and conserve our public lands.

Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote many poems that help us see nature in new ways. In her small book of poems, A Thousand Mornings, she expresses thoughts from her many wanderings through forests, along streams and rivers, up hillsides and at the seashore. She takes a pen and notebook, and writes what she sees. Many of her poems make connections to nature that help us understand our humanity and our place among all things as she does in this poem.

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Poem of the One World

This morning
the beautiful white heron
was floating along above the water

and then into the sky of this
the one world
we all belong to

where everything
sooner or later
is a part of everything else

which thought made me feel
for a little while
quite beautiful myself.

Mary Oliver
A Thousand Mornings

Sometimes as she walks out into the morning, notebook and pen in hand, she writes down questions that make deep connections to our humanity as in this poem.

The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers

Who can guess the luna’s sadness who lives so
briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone
longing to be ground down, to be part again of
something livelier? Who can imagine in what
heaviness the rivers remember their original

Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile
time with them. And I suggest them to you also,
that your spirit grow in curiosity, that your life
be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as
you feel how it actually is, that we–so clever, and
ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained–are only
one design of the moving, the vivacious many.

Mary Oliver
A Thousand Mornings

Poems like this inspire us and change the way we see the world … the way we see ourselves in the family of nature. Mary Oliver’s poetry helps us know that we are one of millions of plant and animal species, all interdependent, all needing each other and the earth. Recently I established a habit. Before I go to sleep, I read a Mary Oliver poem to ground myself in what is real, to keep my curiosity strong, and my life rich. Most of the poems I read more than one time, reading and rereading until they go deep. Science knows so much about ecology, but it is poetry’s connections that move me to active participation in the conservation and preservation of this beautiful, fragile planet.