In Blackwater Woods

I love the poetry of Mary Oliver.  I’m grateful to have found her as a young woman, introduced by my Aunt Gigi with a volume of her poetry for my 22nd birthday.

Today is Mary Oliver’s birthday.  She is 77, and from what I understand, still going strong.  Her work is timeless, and she continues to produce new volumes.


A friend posted on Facebook today with “In Blackwater Woods.”  This is one of those poems that I knew, but until today, I didn’t really know.

Happy Birthday, Mary Oliver.  Thank you for your insight and grace.

(To make it even better, attached is an archived link to “the Writer’s Almanac”.  If you get through the first few minutes, you’ll hear Garrison Keeler reading this poem)

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.

“In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive. © Back Bay Books, 1983.

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One Response to In Blackwater Woods

  1. Teri says:

    Wow Allyson. I love Mary Oliver’s poetry and I have never read this one. What a gift! Happy Birthday indeed.

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