The Journey: another poem by Mary Oliver

Diane and I are sharing poems. It's not really my turn to post one since I just posted Bleeding-heart. But this one came to me in a blog discussion, so here it is. Diane, you're next. Or, anyone else can post a poem and lead us to it. We're having a fun conversation about poetry.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.


Gannet Girl said…
I hope someone starts us off with something concrete. Every line of this poem speaks so powerfully that I hardly know where to begin.
Kievas said…
Some day, I'll get to the point where I finally know what to do...I hope :)
mompriest said…
exactly. I've pondered it for years. Given to me at my ordination by my mentor who had walked me through some rough terrain. Now it's framed in my office by the door, I see it everytime I exit that door for worship or whatever!

I really like the line: "as you left their voices behind"

I think as women, as human beings, that is where we need to begin. Leaving behind the voices that would try to stop us from becoming and being all that God calls us to be. Often it is a long journey just to get to the point where you can "leave the voices behind."...
Gannet Girl said…
"One day you finally knew"

I like this beginning because it reflects my own discernment process. I tend to weigh this and that, and then again, and yet again, and then suddenly I know. And what I know is often not at all what I expected to know, or where it seems that the process has been leading, and I don't know it whole, but I know.

In more concrete terms, as a for instance: late winter before last, as I was making my way very slowly through the Ignatian Exercises and pondering what I was going to do, I drove a couple of hundred miles to an interview for a college teaching job that I was sure spelled my future. I had a wonderful day there, full of positive conversation, and I could see everything falling into place and how easily the different parts of my life would fit and what a wonderful teaching opportunity I would have in a place where an educator's gifts are like gold.

And then a couple of days later I walked into my spiritual director's office and said, "I'm going to seminary." And he said, "You are?" And I said, "Yep." And he said, "OK."

And we've been talking about it for another 1.5 years (because there is nothing whatever about it that enables the different parts of my life to fit easily), but I did suddenly know.
mompriest said…
Yes. Discernment is like that. I too have been trying to discern my next direction for two years and I always end up right back here. Not always in the same place in my being, but in the same church as priest and the same house. Odd. But I do beleive that one of these days I will just know, as you say. And, even then not all the pieces will fit just right. But, I will at least "know" and there's something to be said for that, as you say!
Diane said…
there is so much here... the voices with their bad advice, "Mend my life..."
the description of the night with fallen branches...
but the best is the NEW VOICE, which your recognize as your own...emerging from the night... and the voice emerges in the poem, finally as well. the only thing hard for me is once I start to leave my comment, I can't see the poem any more. I need it in front of me. Where did this come from, Mompriest?

Thanks for it. It is a gift. And reminds me to listen to my own voice.
Diane said…
also, "you felt the old tug at your ankles"... interesting that is is at the shackles, brings to mind the word "impediment" too
RevDrKate said…
I work a lot with abuse survivors and I want to give this to every one of them as a gift of hope, a way to say, "yes, you too can come to this place, hear your own strong voice, save your own life." What a gift this is. Thank you.
Diane said…
yes Kate, I was going to say that. Also poem moves from 1) dangers/voices within the house, 2) dangers outside, to 3)finding her own voice.
mompriest said…
hum, some people are able to have a place where you can opt to see the original post in the comment section. I'll have to see how that is done. In the meantime, while I have a copy of this poem I have no idea what book it is from I found it on line by Googling Mary Oliver The Journey.
Gannet Girl said…
Also the windy and wild night, and the debris all over the place -- the sense that with courage and determination, something bright can emerge from the storm.
mompriest said…
Oh wow. Yes. It is a great poem for anyone (many of us) who have been shut down and found healing. But, yes, with abuse...oh the journey to wholeness...and trust...especially trust of self. Well. and trust of others. Please share this poem. It was given to me after one phase of my long journey...and obviously it will speak to many others.
Diane said…
this is a great conversation... like what you said about the storms, gannet girl...
and mompriest, this poem was given to you?
That's another part of the poetry.
mompriest said…
Yes. I agree, that is part of the poetry of this poem. Given to me around the time of, or on the day of, my ordination by the woman priest who mentored me through some rocky terrain (or one might say, stormy weather). It was my introduction to Mary Oliver and, well, a very fitting poem for that portion of my life, and many seasons since.
Jan said…
Thank you. Although this is the story of all our lives, I am amazed at how it tells mine through clinical depression, hospitalization, and long journeys through therapy. Through part of that journey, I was lost, feeling like I wasn't praying "right" as God seemed so far away--and those voices from my past kept shouting at me. Trudging forward, not feeling like I was even moving, I found my way and looked back to see the way had been lit all along. And this is why I love Thomas Merton's saying that the closer you come to God, the closer you come to your true self!--saving the only life I could save; the only life I was given.
mompriest said…
((jan)) thank you for stopping by and sharing pieces of your story...I'm so grateful you did. (and that your path seems less rugged these days).
Diane said…
Gannet Girl said…
That call, "Mend my life!" That's always it, isn't it?

Just this week, I needed some help. I tried to be thoughtful AND to take care of myself by not asking for it from a friend who was dealing with a major family situation of her own. Now she is angry at me because she wasn't asked to help and because she learned some more of my story which accidentally emerged out of my frustration with her insistence on involvement, and now she thinks I should spread my own neediness around -- in other words, that I should be asking others to "mend my life."

Obtuse story, I know. My only point is that what I keep hearing from her is "Mend my life!" and what I keep trying to do is save my own. Hers is up to her and, brutal as that may sound, it is the only authentic way.
mompriest said…
GG, you are in a challenging position with your friend. But it seems that you understand well the need to care for ourselves and not always rely on, or need, others to mend the lives we need to mend. It's really healthier we do it ourselves. Which is not to discount our need for love, support, and relationship with other. It's just allowing our relationship with ourselves and with others to function in healthier ways (it's the love self, love others component of the commandment, is it not?)...

I am really grateful for the level of sharing here, it's a tribute to the potency of poetry to speak into our hearts.
Gannet Girl said…
Perhaps I should clarify. She is also calling out for me to mend HER life by letting her work on mine. I think we need to draw the line somewhere well before that point.
Gannet Girl said…
And btw, my favorite image in this poem is "the stars began to burn." Not twinkle, not shine, not whatever else it is people describe stars as doing. "Burn" implies a certain passion and it also describes what stars do -- they burn furiously until they burn out and, to the extent we can recognize and share in that, we are caught up in the universal creativity that asks us to spend ourselves down to nothingness.

Such a powerful poem.
Birdele said…
Revdrkate told me about the poetry discussion over here. The poem is beautiful and powerful. Jan, thanks for visiting my blog and encouraging me. I too have been on a journey like yours that at times seemed hopeless. Wish I'd had this poem then!
Jan said…
Diane, Birdele, and Mompriest, thank you for your caring. Birdele, someday we can share journeys if you want to email. That can be done from my profile page.
Diane said…
I'm impressed by the level of discussion here. 'Yes', burning is a good word... to be attentive to the power of each word... there are certain connections with our preaching, too.
Diane said…
Mompriest, I think I have a poem to post tomorrow..., if it's not too early for a new one
mompriest said…
diane, go for it!

Also, yes burning stars, what a great phrase. We think of burning sun but not stars. Stars burning happens at night, sun during the day. Burning in the darkness of night and sheets of clouds...

sheets of clouds add another layer of darkness (no moon), more covering up, but the stars, the "light" burns through the darkness and the covering up bringing forth this new voice.

I've been out today doing family things. Thanks GG for clarifying and for everyone who has shared so deeply.
Diane said…
just wanted to let you know that I posted another poem at my place...
Deb said…
"one day you finally knew..."

Yes. That line spoke to me (LOUDLY) as I read. It is funny because one of my mentors, an Episcopalian priest, told me that she had seen God's confirmation on me over the last year. That in itself is pretty cool.

And yeah. The bad advice seems to popup like... um... weeds?

You are making me think I need to post some of my stuff.


mompriest said…
Go for it deb, and let us know when you do!
Songbird said…
It strikes me how often the negative voices are the ones inside my own head. I've never looked at this poem that way before; it's right on point tonight. But, wow, is it hard to walk away from the things you have been telling yourself for years, convinced they were the voices of others.

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