Doesn’t Everything Die?

I have never been a big fan of poetry, which is ironic, given that when I do read it, I tend to love it. How can I not embrace the imagery and the way those lean, clever words make me ponder? Last night at Back to School Night, my daughter’s freshman English teacher read Mary Oliver ‘s The Summer Day ( poets/mary_oliver) to the assembled parents. As a biologist and lover of literature, I cannot believe that I had never heard of this writer. She and I are kindred spirits, yet she unfolds the natural world in a way I have never experienced.

This learned woman who teaches high school English was not a wanna-be biology teacher. She read this poem to us parents, just as she had guided our children through the verses on the first day of school, because of the message in this beautifully written poem. Each stanza draws you in and leaves the reader with a simple reminder: We only get one shot at life. On this night, with a room filled with mothers and fathers, this English instructor closed her book and issued a challenge: Pause and ask yourself a question, not just at weddings or funerals or when you ship your children off to college, ask yourself today this concluding line of Mary Oliver’s poem: Tell me, what is it you plan to do With your one wild and precious life?

After ten meager minutes, I left the room wishing that I could spend a portion of my “wild and precious life” sitting in this woman’s English class. Since that isn’t possible, I vowed to search down and read more Mary Oliver poetry in the hopes that it will make me a better writer. Perhaps, some day as I practice the craft of writing, I too will capture the power of words that will make someone realize that death is inevitable, that every day is a gift, that each moment is an opportunity to reflect on the direction of one’s life. Until then, I offer the best alternative I can think of, which is to pass along Mary Oliver’s poignant phrase: Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?


3 Responses to Doesn’t Everything Die?

  1. uninvoked says:

    Thank you for sharing this. You’ve made me want to read it too, so I can benefit from the same inspiration you have received.

    • Your welcome. If you go to the website I listed on the blog then scroll down and click on The Summer Day you can read the full poem. I’ve been appreciating my precious (but maybe not so wild) life all day.

  2. David George says:

    Thanks for sharing this reminder, Jill. Life is too short to waste. One of my writing mentors once recommended to me that I take a poetry class, or at least try once again to write poetry as if I were in college again. She said my writing would be informed in two positive ways: 1) I would learn the importance of every single word, present or absent in my stories. And, 2) cadence, tempo, and rhythm would become an important part of my writing – the reader would hear the beat and flow of the phrases and sentences. This second point was by far the more difficult to hear, then master. But now I appreciate more the beat and flow of great writing, and aspire to that level of writing myself.

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