Friday, February 10, 2012


One of my dearest friends is dealing with a sudden loss, which is hard for so many reasons, and in part because there's nothing I can do for her or the rest of the family.

And whenever I feel like there's nothing I can do, I always turn to poetry. Always.

This poem in particular speaks to me in times of grief and powerlessness:

In Blackwater Woods
 by Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars
of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,
the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
What poems do you turn to in times of grief? For more poetry visit the amazing Laura at Writing the World for Kids!


  1. Thank you for sharing this poem. I lost a very special friend this week and it's been hard. These words help to soothe.

  2. The first grief poem that came to my mind was "The Thing Is" by Ellen Bass.

    The Thing Is
    by Ellen Bass

    to love life, to love it even
    when you have no stomach for it
    and everything you've held dear
    crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
    your throat filled with the silt of it.
    When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
    thickening the air, heavy as water
    more fit for gills than lungs;
    when grief weights you like your own flesh
    only more of it, an obesity of grief,
    you think, How can a body withstand this?
    Then you hold life like a face
    between your palms, a plain face,
    no charming smile, no violet eyes,
    and you say, yes, I will take you
    I will love you, again.

    1. Tabatha, thank you SO MUCH for sharing this poem. I didn't know it, and it speaks to me.

  3. So sorry for your friend, Irene. I wasn't familiar with this Mary Oliver poem - it is beautiful, and its simple words difficult.

  4. Beautiful poem, Irene. I love Mary Oliver and hadn't read this one. Poems often do say what we cannot find words for.

    1. Thank you, Joyce. Mary Oliver is so good at using nature to express human things.

  5. So sorry to hear the sad news. The Mary Oliver poem is beautiful. You're right. There's nothing for grief but poetry.

  6. your friendship is all I need I shared the poem thanks

  7. I'm so sorry. I know that feeling. I love this poem. It makes me think in some ways of Charlotte's Web, which I just read with the class, and the way he shows his great love for the world by putting death in the book, as part of the web and cycles. Take care of your beautiful self.

    1. Yes to Charlotte's Web and how death is a part of life. Thank you, Jeannine.

  8. So true, you have to hold on and let go. And so difficult.

    1. Oh, the letting go. SO HARD. Thank you, Ruth.

  9. Hi Irene, like you when words are not sufficient to make the pain go away, I turn to poetry. Just today, I posted a review of Patrick Ness' A Monster Calls on my blog - it also speaks of 'wordless truths riddled with pain' - a perfect book that knows grief and loss - not poetry, no, but close enough to make the pain ease up a little bit. :)

  10. Both the Oliver poem you shared, and the Bass poem Tabatha shared are perfect reminders. Grief is never easy, but to remember that no matter how painful the end is, we'd still chose to live, to love, to

    "hold life like a face
    between your palms, a plain face,
    no charming smile, no violet eyes,
    and you say, yes, I will take you
    I will love you, again."

  11. On a lighter note, are you going to join in Ed DeCaria's March Madness?

  12. Irene, I missed finding you yesterday. I'm sorry for your loss. We too experienced a loss in this past week. I have often turned to what I've called 'goodbye' poems when I experience a loss & sometimes have sent a poem to a friend with my note. I'm glad to hear you receive comfort from poetry in your grief. I find comfort in poetry for a myriad of reasons. Here is one I love & keep close:

    Sometimes Goodbye ...

    Sometimes Goodbye
    is the hardest thing to say
    Old times a mist
    Old people--ghosts therein
    And sometimes goodbye
    is the hardest thing to do
    Shadows of ghosts
    forever etched on our souls
    It matters not
    If they be friend or foe
    Good times or bad
    We sit back and watch
    While parts of our lives
    Slowly fade into the backdrop
    And a profound awareness
    Washes over us
    Mortality becomes realized, recognized
    Forever seems like not such a long time
    After all
    However, good-byes must be said
    They must be done
    Old things must be released
    To free our arms
    For the embrace of the new
    Knowing well that as we let go of some things
    Memories live on
    And etchings never fade.

    by Mandie McDougal

  13. Mary Oliver's poems really get to the heart. Thanks for sharing this one.


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