Two stunning poems about life, death and prayer

Here are two poems about connecting with spirit and oneness, the first, about experiencing the death of someone we know, and the second, about prayer. Pay attention to the simplicity of the writing, the complexity of the idea, and the lift of energy in each poem as it teaches its metaphorical lesson so gently, so beautifully! May we all write with such attention to language. The work behind these apparently simple gems must have been Herculean!

When They Die We Change Our Minds About Them
from my daily dose of poetry from
 Jennifer Michael Hecht

When they die we change our minds
about them. While they live we see
the plenty hard they’re trying,
to be a star, or nice, or wise,
and so we do not quite believe them.

When they die, suddenly they are
what they claimed. Turns out,
that’s what one of those looks like.

The cold war over manner of manly
or mission is over. Same person,
same facts and acts, just now
a quiet brain stem. We no longer
begrudge his or her stupid luck.

When they die we change our minds
about them. I will try to believe
while you yet breathe.


I Happened To Be Standing
from the Writer’s Almanac
by Mary Oliver

I don’t know where prayers go,
      or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
      half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
      crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
      growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
      along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
      of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
      call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
      or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
      if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.

“I Happened To Be Standing” by Mary Oliver from A Thousand Mornings. © The Penguin Press, 2012.


2 thoughts on “Two stunning poems about life, death and prayer

  1. wow, just WOW, both of those. The first on I had to read about three times, letting it sink in, turning over the deaths I’ve lived through in my mind, until the poem expanded to its full depth.

    and Mary Oliver, she gets me every time. Did you know she was a protege of Edna St. Vincent Millay? I only recently learned this. “what could this be, if not a prayer?” indeed.


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