Words of WonderInvitation - Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

by Mary Oliver


On the 17th January it was the five year anniversary of American poet Mary Oliver’s death. I was not aware of this, but on that day I received a gift of her new collection of poems, Devotions, and have been drinking in her poetry every morning since. Her words are painting my days with a subtle hue – a tinge of awe, a wash of serene sky-like openness and a deeply committed attention to the phenomenal world.

Her pointed, yet tender life lessons live on in the world and will root in your heart if you readily stop to receive them. This poem Invitation, is no exception. Contemporary Irish poet Brother Richard Hendrick, in his poem written last week as a dedication to Mary Oliver, likens her to a saint or sage, though he guesses that she would have laughed at the idea. I certainly feel that reading this poem teaches me the content of a whole spiritual book (or mindfulness course!) quite beautifully, by piercing my heart with the realisation of something essential in a few short lines. What Mary Oliver knows and says here resonates directly with what my heart knows and desperately needs to remember.

There is an urgency in this poem. Mary begs us not to miss out on what is offered up to us. She says that especially here, especially now, especially when much of what we see and hear about is brokenness, we must not forget the feast that is offered up to us already. Simply by virtue of our being alive and being in the magnificent company of Life’s abundance it is offered, in the goldfinches, or the snowdrops coming through as they are here in Herefordshire at the moment.

This could be the moment of revolution. Albeit a quiet and personal one. Here is the question I will take with me from this poem: even in my ‘busy and very important day’ (which every day tends to be!) can I let the wonders of Life change me?

PS. If you would like to learn more about how gratitude and delight can offer resilience in our urgent times check out our Compassion in Action course which is coming up in April and takes place at Samye Ling in the Scottish Borders.

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash