How Was It?


It has frequently been remarked, about my own writings, that I emphasize the notion of attention. This began simply enough: to see that the way the flicker flies is greatly different from the way the swallow plays in the golden air of summer. It was my pleasure to notice such things, it was a good first step. But later, watching M. when she was taking photographs, and watching her in the darkroom, and no less watching the intensity and openness with which she dealt with friends, and strangers too, taught me what real attention is about. Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M. had in abundance, and gave away freely… I was in my twenties and early thirties, and well-filled with a sense of my own thoughts, my one presence. I was eager to address the world of words — to address the world with words. Then M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visible to the heavenly invisibles…

Somewhere in my writings I have described how M., unfailing, whenever I came home from a walk in the woods or the fields, would say “How was it?” and how dear this questions was to me. Reading in her journals this last year and half I came upon the following entry:
Mary has just returned with yellow flowers
and a wet Luke who has been swimming in the 
ponds. I always ask her for news. What does
that mean, what news am I looking for? Good,
I imagine. What I means is news of humans.
Mary comes home with fox news, bird news,
and her loving friends the geese Merlin and 
Dreamer, who are going to become parents
under Mary’s eyes once again. How many years
has she been watching them? They come 
running to her. That’s Mary’s news.
I don’t think I was wrong to be in the world I was in, it was my salvation from my own darkness. Nor have I ever abandoned it — those earthly signs that so surely led towards epiphanies. And yet, and yet, she wanted me to enter more fully into the human world also, and to embrace it, as I believe I have. And what a gift to read about her wish for it, who never expressed impatience with my reports of the natural world, the blue and green happiness I found there. Our love was so tight.
— Mary Oliver, Our World (pp. 71-73)

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