“Where the path closed
down and over,
through the scumbled leaves,
through the knotted catbrier,
I kept going.”
I don’t really like nature poetry. I’ve tried for years, taking recommendations, trying to more than just acknowledge its worth and actually revel in it. But there are few nature poems (or poets) that get me.
Or should I say: there are few nature poems (or poets) that I get.
And it isn’t for lack of love for nature, either. I’d take a day in the woods over shopping and call it blessed. Still, there’s something.
A friend once told me, “Egrets are auspicious birds.” We were standing by the ocean watching two egrets meander along the marsh. This friend is a reader of signs – a believer in “reasons for things” – and as I watched the egret bend its elegant neck to the marsh grasses, I almost believed her.
Battling through thorns, swatting at mosquitos, the narrator searches for something she doesn’t even know is there. At first, it’s just a clump of reeds shimmering across the shore. Then, suddenly, it bursts into life and white fire, egrets emerging from the reeds.
“Even half-asleep they had
such faith in the world
that made them –
tilting through the water,
by the laws
of their faith not logic,
they opened their wings
softly and stepped
over every dark thing.”
“By the laws of their faith” – as though even birds have a sense of belonging. I imagined their long un-clumsy legs shifting with grace.
They opened their wings softly and stepped over every dark thing.
I sit on my bed, that last line resonating through the room as though I’d read it aloud.
I read it again, quickly, afraid almost that the words are not true. That I didn’t just read a poem about egrets and water and darkness and light.
But I did, and there it is on page 148. A real-live nature poem that stopped me in my mindless reading and gave words to transcendence.
She’s done it again, Mary Oliver, with her observations and daily life and the shaping of thought into poetry.
Maybe I don’t think I care for nature poetry.
If this is me not caring, then why has the image of egrets rising up out of the reeds, the image of “stepping over every dark thing”, settled so permanently in my mind?
[Photo: Texas Eagle]