Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Poem: The Journey

I first read this poem by Mary Oliver almost seven years ago*. It was my introduction to this extraordinary poet, as well as the first time I read anything that so accurately described how I felt about my life situation. If I had to choose one favorite poem, this would be it:

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

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 that you could save.

When I first read this poem, I thought about the voices that had called to me my whole life, outside forces that felt out of my control. Many existed only in memories, yet continued to play on a continuous loop. Others were in response to patterns I had put in place and would quiet only when I changed my ways of doing and responding.

In the years since my first reading of this poem I have been on a journey to identify that new voice, the one that I am slowly recognizing as my own. There have been breakthroughs and set-backs. I have continued on, determined to do the only thing I can do.

This past week-end I had an aha moment. The poem refers not only to those voices without but also the voices within. I am the house that trembles when I fear I will fail. My old perceptions are the foundations, and the melancholy has indeed been terrible as they have been shaken to their very core. Time has passed, but it is not too late. As old voices fall silent, a new voice can be heard in the distance. As my mind clears and confidence grows, that voice gets louder and stronger. The new voice is mine. The journey continues....

*First read in the book by Roger Housden Ten Poems to Change Your Life.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and profound. Thanks. Come by and get what's yours!

Anonymous said...

That's one of my favorite poems of all time, and I read it to every writing class I teach. Everyone always wants a copy, so I started including it in my handouts! Thanks for sharing it again.

Cindy H said...

I love that poem. Thanks for sharing it.

Kate said...

I love this poem also. But the journey is a terrifying prospect for me most days; I cannot quite get there and let go and do the "thing" that I must. I admire those who do.

Kel said...

Sharon, I first saw that poem in the very same book and shared about it here. It was very impacting at the time and is a piece I return to time and again.