Essay

Invitation

By November 7, 2011 2 Comments
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Invitation

Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
melodiously
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.

(Source: Red Bird: Poems
Published by Beacon Press)

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. Rainer Maria Rilke is too, so what’s not to love about an Oliver poem that references Rilke?

What resonates for me today is simply the sense of being invited. Depending on the context, receiving an invitation can be delightful or it can be burdensome.

The poem beckons the reader to discover delight in the sort of invitation that can initially seem like a burdensome interruption to a “busy and very important” day. Listening in on the vivacious birdsong, the poet tunes into the deeper reality present in the sights and sounds that can so easily function as background noise. Even a few moments of focused attention produce an awareness that will no doubt permeate the remainder of the day, maybe even permeate the way the rest of that day is lived.

“not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude—
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.”

The invitation to be a contributor to this blog felt both exciting and daunting. I wasn’t sure it was wise to say yes to another commitment. I’m sure other writers and readers can relate. What we say yes to, and what we say no to, will shape or be shaped by our convictions and priorities. In saying yes, I said yes to the hope of experiencing this commitment not as a burden but as an opportunity to reflect and share with others, “for sheer delight and gratitude.”

I hope that the practice of writing and reading in this conversation will help focus my attention on things in the everyday world around me, whether trivial or sublime, that invite me to delight, marvel, wonder, and respond. I hope this will be true for our readers as well.

 

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