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The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began…


I cited the Mary Oliver poem “The Journey” at the beginning of the Fertile Void chapter in Inventing the Rest of our Lives because it spoke so evocatively about the trepidation we feel as we enter unknown territory. The lines “and there was a new voice/ which you slowly/ recognized as your own” in particular resonate with so many women in transition.

This week as I listened to her voice on “Provincetown: A Poet’s Landscape,” with a slide show of photos that accompany Mary Duenwald’s article in The New York Times (“The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown”) I was reminded of the power of her insights.

Her poems are on many websites and YouTube – we’ve included one video here. As one admirer wrote on Amazon about Evidence: Poems (Oliver’s most recent collection), “It is experience, thought, and feeling distilled as few can do so well as Oliver.”

Mary Oliver says poems are meant to be read out loud.
Read in your own voice.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop…
…as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds.
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world.
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

–Mary Oliver, The Journey

From “Dream Works” by Mary Oliver
Copyright ©1986 by Mary Oliver,
Grove/Atlantic, Inc.

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One Comment »

  • Karin Lippert said:

    I love Mary Oliver’s poetry and was glad to see it here. She is also featured on YouTube in several videos including trailer for “The Life and Times of Uncle D,” a story quest and film about HIV/AIDS:

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