Thirst: Poems by Mary Oliver


Thirst is Mary Oliver's 2006 collection, containing forty-three works from the poet that frame her experiences in the time after her partner of four decades passed away. While her poems always have a way of exposing the rawness of nature and freedom and love, here she sets her sights on slightly different territory: namely the nakedness of grief and the honesty of passing through it, back to the place of comfort that looks slightly different after knowing loss. Sweetly, peacefully, she faces that place with hope and courage. Some poems are decidedly more religious in context than some of her others, but with ever as much food for the secular soul. As she explores her encounters with Christianity she reveals her prayers directly while remaining faithful (as it were) to the religion that has always governed her work: the naturalness and beauty of the rustic world.

I had such a longing for virtue, for company. I wanted Christ to be as close as the cross I wear. I wanted to read and serve, to touch the altar linen. Instead I went back to the woods where not a single tree turns its face away.

Instead I prayed, oh Lord, let me be something useful and unpretentious. Even the chimney swift sings. Even the cobblestones have a task to do, and do it well.

Lord, let me be a flower, even a tare; or a sparrow. Or the smallest bright stone in a ring worn by someone brave and kind, whose name I will never know.
— More Beautiful Than the Honey Locust Tree are the Words of the Lord

Also in this collection is one of her most famous poems, slight and timeless, "The Uses of Sorrow" (Someone I loved once gave me / a box full of darkness. / It took me years to understand / that this, too, was a gift.). That poem serves as a breaking point, one can imagine; it calls to mind the feeling of sliding through the melancholy of memories and into the place where they evoke happiness and comfort again. With such topics as loss and grief as her muse, Oliver gives a remarkable example of the power of hope as she offers some of her characteristically whimsical and pensive lines, reminding us again of the boundless expanse of imagination.

Have you heard the laughter that comes, now and again, out of my startled mouth?

How I linger to admire, admire, admire the things of this world that are kind, and maybe

Also troubled - roses in the wind, the sea geese on the steep waves, a love to which there is no reply?
— Heavy

Exquisite, wise, and affecting, Thirst proves the unequivocal fact that Mary Oliver’s poems are the lifeblood of grace and harmony; and of gratitude, even in the face of great loss.

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