Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Bleeding-heart: a poem by Mary Oliver











I know a bleeding-heart plant that has thrived
for sixty years if not more, and has never
missed a spring without rising and spreading
itself into a grassy bush, with many small red
hearts dangling. Don't you think that deserves
a little thought? The woman who planted it
has been gone for a long time, and everyone
who saw it in that time has also died or moved
away and so, like so many stories, this one can't
get finished properly. Most things that are
important, have you noticed, lack a certain
neatness. More delicious, anyway is to
remember my grandmother's pleasure when
the dissolve of winter was over and the green
knobs appeared and began to rise, and to cre-
ate their many hearts. One would say she was
a simple woman, made happy by simple
things. I think this was true. And more than
once, in my long life, I have wished to be her.

31 comments:

mompriest said...

I know a bleeding heart that has thrived for sixty years...don't you think that deserves a little thought?

I love her honest simplicity. Yes. if does deserve a little thought, I think!

and...

most things that are important lack a certain neatness...

I think I want to post this on the door of my house and office!

Diane said...

I was going to comment on her line "most things that are important lack..." because I think the poem itself lacks a certain neatness (in terms of an orderly poem)

I also like her description of the "dissolve of winter"...

Of course, anyone who writes fondly of her grandmother is a friend of mine.

thinking more...

I'll post a link over at my place

mompriest said...

But mostly I choose this because I think it is an atypical poem, moving our expectation for rhyme into a sense of rhythm instead.

And, in its published version the edges are "justified" so the poem is a straight lines and forms a rectangle...couldn't get that effect on the blog!

Diane said...

hmm... in a rectangle...do you know which of her books it's from?

mompriest said...

I found it in Blue Iris, page 17. (Beacon Press, 2004. Tried to find it on line where I could copy it and hopefully keep the shape, but no could do.

Blue Iris has several poems in this justified format. Plus essays that are very poetic.

Gannet Girl said...

Isn't it terrific that it's a bleeding heart that survives for 60 years? I think immediately of my own indomitable gm, who survived much heartbreak over a period of a century. The heart breaks and bleeds, but it does not die.

Barbara B. said...

This poem reminds me of my grandmother too! And I love how there is such mystery and energy beneath Oliver's simple, familiar language.

Diane said...

yes, I'm sure the bleeding heart is in some ways a metaphor... but not just for the grandmother... isn't it interesting that it reminds us of our grandmothers? Many of them were indomitable

mompriest said...

bleeding heart is in some ways a metaphor: for a kind of life (simpler, perhaps) long gone. Or perhaps for a life choice not lived/made (more than once in my life, I have wished to be her). Or maybe for seasons in life, spring always comes and this flower is a sign of the strength and reliability of spring (I know...has thrived).

I really love the phrase: "Don't you think that deserves a little thought." So often I feel that way about life. Slow down, give this moment a little time, a little thought.

Kievas said...

There are many times when I long for a simpler time. It's in the simpler things--a flower, a rainbow, a baby bird--that I often find God's presence most easily.

mompriest said...

kievas, yes, so true.

Songbird said...

This is really beautiful. I love her observations of the movement of the year, and the movement of the years.

mompriest said...

Sb, me too. I like many of Oliver's poems. She has such a great style.

Diane said...

like so many stories, this one can't get finished properly...I think that is so true about our forebears, simple people whose stories are "unfinished" simply because they are gone before we thought to ask them certain things. My grandparents both came over to the U.S. from Sweden and came through Ellis Island. We have remarked that no one asked them what that was like. so "the story" can't get "finished properly." Do you think this is what she is referring to?

Barbara B. said...

Diane, I agree. Also, it seems to me that there are so many loose ends in life, so perhaps it might refer as well to things one wishes had been said and/or done while that person was alive. (As an example, my grandmother and I always talked about taking a long bus trip together--of all things!--but it never happened.)

mompriest said...

Yes. i agree with both of you in terms of things not finishing "properly." It makes me so consious of asking my relatives for what ever stories they can remember. Or, because so many of my family have done geneology and "tell" the story of family ancestors, I feel like I can sometimes fill in the missing pieces...although that often leads into my story and my hopes and dreams and how I "connect" with my ancestry. Still, that's kind of where she's going, perhaps?

Diane said...

missing pieces is a good phrase... there are missing pieces in all these lives, but the "bleeding heart" is a clue to what they were about, when we don't know everything... the rising each spring, and the joy of observing that rising, the tenacity, the suffering, everything in the image of the "bleeding heart" is a clue to the missing pieces of ordinary but significant lives

mompriest said...

Ohhh, and bleeding heart might also be about the very thing that hearts do, pump blood, the very source of life. Lives lived then, now, and in the future, all connected by a heart that somehow lives on through all...

RevDrKate said...

This is lovely, just speaks of life...thriving, untidy. What begins it after a certain point is gone, yet it goes on, just such layering of metaphor here is wonderful. Thanks.

mompriest said...

Made happy by simple things. Yes. If we stop long enough to really appreciate and get them...like a bleeding heart that thrives over 60 years and rises up and blooms each year...simple things to make us happy. Do we notice?

Songbird said...

I love the depth of this conversation. Thanks, mompriest, for posting the poem.

Diane said...

just read a review of a memoir called "little heathens" in the NY Times book review, which reminds me a little of this poem. She is an older woman who grew up during the depression. Simple living and sacrifice are themes.

mompriest said...

I'll have to look for "Little Heathens." I'm currently reading Kris Radish, "The Elegant Gathering on White Snows." It's about a group of women friends who take off one night and begin a sojourn through Wisconsin, walking until they are ready to stop. In the meantime they share their life stories, as well as stories of various other women they impact along the way. It too reminds me of this poem...which may have been why I choose it, although I don't remember thinking about it that way at the time...

A little simple poem, but a wonderful conversation...

Diane said...

Elegant Gathering sounds good too. today is a rather overcast day, not like yesterday. good for blogging, or reading, or knitting, even (have kind of gotten behind on that).

mompriest said...

More delicious anyway...hum. I'm thinking about that phrase as I relish in a beautiful summer day after a long cold winter of illness. Another low humidity sunny day, 79 degrees. It is delicious.

That's a word I rarely use if not speaking about food, even then I tend to say "good," not delicious. SO. I word I think I'll use more intentionally. In more ways.

Diane said...

yes, she uses such delicious words!

Diane said...

delicious to remember...

what memories are delicious for you?

usually they are sensory ones, aren't they? like the strawberries on my grandparents' farm, or how it felt to run into the lake every summer, or the smell of autumn.
my mom used to say she never missed the farm, except at harvest.

mompriest said...

Yes. Long leisurely mornings with a cup of coffee outside, early in the day. Just sitting and taking in the world. Or, my mother's homemade fried chicken and potato salad (still a family favorite, I use her "recipe."). I'm sure I could come up with several delicious memories pertaining to sight, smell, taste, feel...like a cool breeze on a hot summer day.

RevDrKate said...

I too am going book looking now. The Elegant Gathering reminds me of the movie "Strangers in Good Company" a group of women on a bus tour that gets detoured and they share life stories. It's a beauty! Thanks for this discussion. It's reminding me about taking time for poetry again in my life.

mompriest said...

Oh, I'll have to look for the movie. I always enjoy a good movie.

And, I've really come to enjoy Mary Oliver. She wrote a great poem called "The Journey." It's a good one for those of us who find challenges on this journey of life...

Trée said...

I love this poem. Thanks for posting. Mary Oliver is a national treasure.

I will with God's help....uncomplicating the complicated

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