The Ponds

by Mary Oliver


Original Language English

Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe

their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them --

the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch

only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?

I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided --
and that one wears an orange blight --
and this one is a glossy cheek

half nibbled away --
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.

Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled --
to cast aside the weight of facts

and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing --
that the light is everything -- that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

-- from House of Light, by Mary Oliver

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I want to believe I am looking

into the white fire of a great mystery.


What a great couple of lines! It's both hesitant and hopeful. More than hopeful -- the words shimmer with such light and vitality that they intuit a glimpse already seen, just not yet made fully conscious. A vision already received but not yet claimed...

I love the way, at the beginning of this poem, Mary Oliver moves from the perfect world of the lilies to the difficult recognition of beauty in the scarred, "imperfect" muskrats moving among them. There is a sense of the markings of life and history upon the muskrats that the lilies can't match in their symmetry. Yet clearly there is suffering there too.

Do we live in that suffering or do we float a little above it? Maybe we do both.

There is something deeply self-forgiving in the vision she gives us here.

I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing --
that the light is everything -- that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.



Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early New and Selected Poems House of Light American Primitive What Do We Know: Poems and Prose Poems
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The Ponds