Writing the Sacred: A Mary Oliver Poem

Nature is my constant inspiration — and my teacher. It is a place where the sacred is fiercely, gently present at all times. Being quiet and observing what is, what is here, and the sacred wholeness behind it (behind all things!) is one of the gifts of nature.

Poets who write about this sacred experience often come off as saccharine or overly emotional.

Mary Oliver, on the other hand, is able to find the glory and simplicity in the same breath, the natural and the sacred together. Sheʻs one of my inspirations as a wordcrafter, and here is a poem, The Swan, that somehow manages to talk about writers, nature and God all at once, and as effortlessly as a swan swims across a lake.

Of course, writing is not effortless. Revise, revise, revise! And then, the poem or essay or play or novel feels effortless. Thatʻs the magic that rewards the discipline, and helps us find the sacred (or as she puts it “paradise”) in writing.

Hereʻs the poem:

The Swan  by Mary Oliver

Across the wide waters
something comes
floating–a slim
and delicate

ship, filled
with white flowers–
and it moves
on its miraculous muscles

as though time didn’t exist,
as though bringing such gifts
to the dry shore
was a happiness

almost beyond bearing.
And now it turns its dark eyes,
it rearranges
the clouds of its wings,

it trails
an elaborate webbed foot,
the color of charcoal.
Soon it will be here.

Oh, what shall I do
when that poppy-colored beak
rests in my hand?
Said Mrs. Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband’s company–
he is so often
in paradise.
Of course! the path to heaven

doesn’t lie down in flat miles.
It’s in the imagination
with which you perceive
this world,

and the gestures
with which you honor it.
Oh, what will I do, what will I say, when those
white wings
touch the shore?

“The Swan” by Mary Oliver, from Winter Hours. (c) Houghton Mifflin, 1999.


4 thoughts on “Writing the Sacred: A Mary Oliver Poem

  1. I love your post and this poem. Mary Oliver is also an inspiration to me. I love the way this poem delivers a wave of understanding both of seeing the swan and feeling of peacefulness.


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