“Devotions” – Mary Oliver’s selected poems

By: Tom Rupp
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From time to time, I pause to remind us of our lovely local library. It is always a great place to go. This is especially true in the summer because it is a cool and quiet retreat.

I have always loved libraries. One of the first little poems I wrote as a kid occurred out in front of a library (final line, “the library wasn’t open ‘til 10”).

Well, speaking of the library and of poetry, I just finished a book checked out from our Folsom branch. It is a 400-page collection from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Mary Oliver. Its title is “Devotions.”

Without getting too 420 on you, you often experience a poem more than read it. “If” by Kipling, “The Raven” by Poe, “Stopping by the Woods” by Frost – these all impressed me as a youth and served as steering lights along the way. They spoke, and they still speak.

I read certain poets without hesitation – Alexander Pope, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, for starters. I had read a poem or two by Oliver, but not anything like this highlight collection from her life.

The bulk of her poetry is drawn from, and is about, nature – plants and animals. She takes many and long walks, and it comes through in her poems. Thus, like a hike, “you don’t know where a sentence will take you, depending on its rolls and folds.”

Oliver says “to pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” But not in a droll way. Rather, “be untidy in your exuberance” because “wild sings the bird of the heart in the forests of our lives.” She yearns, “Oh to love what is lovely and will not last!” Her instructions for living a life? “Pay attention, be astonished; tell about it.”

Although “a person wants to stand in a happy place in a poem,” still, “Death waits for me; this doesn’t amuse me, neither does it frighten me.”

In one poem, Oliver declares, “When death comes, I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering: what is it going to be like? I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

Thus, as it were in response, in another poem she asks, and I ponder, this weighty question – “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Do not merely read those words. Experience them.

Tom Rupp is a resident of Folsom and a weekly columnist in the Folsom Telegraph. You can reach him at