A Poem for a Poet



wisdom seeker:
she willed us along
beneath willows and oaks
toward the life-giving water
of words. See, she says, how they rise
and flow ~ quenching imagination’s
thirst, flooding away darkness from our eyes.


Comments always are welcome.
My etheree was written in response to Mary Oliver’s death. For more information on the form, a syllabic poem that, at its most basic, contains ten lines and a total of fifty-five syllables, please click here.

80 thoughts on “A Poem for a Poet

  1. Sigh, this is a lovely tribute to an inspiring woman. As soon as I began to read I knew who it was for. I think I’m still coming to terms with her death, and of course, she will always live on through her writing. Thank you Linda, it’s beautiful.

    1. Thank you, eremophila. If you haven’t read the collection of essays titled Upstream, I highly recommend it. I assume you’ve already read Dog Songs. I can imagine you reading that one aloud to your traveling companion.

      1. Access to Mary’s work is limited here, and as you know, so is my space for books. A bookshop I enquired at prior to her passing, last week told me that now all work is sold out, and not available……But I’ll keep your recommendations in mind thanks.

    1. You’re welcome, Margaret. I’ve long appreciated Mary Oliver’s poetry, and have enjoyed learning how to use Etheree Taylor Armstrong’s poetic form. Happy research!

  2. A
    thoughtful tribute,
    encouraging us
    to follow her footsteps
    Through the fields of winter grass
    Laid out in rolling lumps of gold
    revealing the wind’s pathway of choice
    Until the trees say stop and read my leaves.

    1. Wonderfully done, Carrie. Thank you. I smiled especially at the layers of meaning in the last line: reading the tea leaves, reading the leaves’ lips, and perhaps even other interpretations that haven’t occurred to me yet.

  3. I love her poems although she is not widely known here, even among my poetry loving friends. However, I try to introduce her work as often as I can.
    Thank you for your etheree, it’s lovely.

    1. I’m not surprised you find her work congenial, Friko. Not all of the critics have; one actually termed her “too accessible.” You can imagine my response. Have you read the volume titled Dog Songs? I have no doubt Millie would enjoy it, too.

  4. Could it be that the initial w sounds in Mary Oliver’s “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” influenced you? Your first four lines begin with a w and each of the next four contain a word with an initial w.

    1. My impulse is to say no, but who can say what the unconscious does? What is certain is that this was the easiest poem I’ve ever written. The first seven-plus lines emerged fully formed, and the entire etheree required only three revisions.

  5. Your poem really touched me personally. This morning I found myself spending a lot of time perusing more of Mary Oliver’s poetry and books. I picture myself sitting out in the orchard on a fallen tree trunk, reading her work, truly experiencing her words. The task of picking up timber can wait…

    1. She does fit into life rather nicely, doesn’t she? Sometimes she illuminates what surrounds us, and sometimes she presents something entirely unexpected and unique. Her life may be past tense now, but her words are still in the present.

    1. Until your comment, I hadn’t noticed how the shape or the poem and the wake of the boat share that correspondence. Sometimes it does take another’s eye to see what we’ve missed, as you’re surely experienced with your painting.

  6. A lovely tribute and a perfect photograph to match. Thanks for this. Today my Doktorvater is being buried, and he loved words, so I am going to use these to think on him as well. Alas, I cannot be at his funeral, but this will be the sermon preached for me for him today.

    1. I’m sorry to hear that sad news, Allen. You’ve spoken of him before, and I know how much he meant to you. Some of my favorite words from William Blake come to mind:

      Joy and Woe are woven fine
      A Clothing for the soul divine;
      Under every grief & pine
      Runs a joy with silken twine.

      I’m glad to have offered some fitting words. It occurs to me that ‘woods walker, wanderer, and wisdom seeker’ apply to you, too. You’ve certainly wandered a good way from home just now!

    1. This was one of those times when letting things simmer a bit was the wise thing to do, Debbie. Sometimes I avoid reading what others have written until my own thoughts have coalesced; it’s a way to help ensure that I’m expressing myself, rather than parroting others. Thanks for your affirming words.

    1. I’d posted the photo before on Lagniappe, but I felt it was the perfect one for this post. I didn’t see, until Cheri pointed it out, that the shape of the poem and the shape of the wake in the photo are similar. It reminded me of what Oliver did time and again: making us aware of the world through her words.

    1. I think she’d enjoy it, too. When I finished the etheree, I couldn’t help noting that it had a bit of a Mary Oliver feel to it, despite the rigid structure. As I wrote in the post about Charles Treger, sometimes we play the music, and sometimes the music plays us.

    1. And isn’t it something, how such simple words can combine to make a lovely thing? I suppose that’s part of the delight of writing. We never really know where we’re headed until we’ve reached the end, and stop to look around. It’s always nice when we’re pleased with the view!

    1. I’m glad you think so, because that’s exactly what I think of so much of Oliver’s writing. I hope people keep being introduced to her. I’ll try to do my part.

    1. It is an interesting form, Jean. When I first began working with it, just counting syllables was the name of the game. Now, I’ve learned how to fit the form with a little more grace.

      It surely is good to see you. I await your “refugee” post with great anticipation.

    1. Thank you, Otto. I was a bit surprised by how easily this etheree came; it almost wrote itself, and I was more than satisfied with it. It pleases me that you enjoy the etherees as a form, too. I’m enjoying them more as I learn how flexible the structure can be.

    1. That’s where practice comes in. When I first tried writing them, counting the syllables came first, and the poems were a little wooden as a result. But over time — some years now, actually — I’ve begun to learn how to fit rhythm, rhyme, and such into the structure. This may be the most graceful I’ve written, but it’s come at the end of a long learning process!

    1. Thank you, Bella. Birthday connections are fun. I was born on the same day as Johnny Carson, which always has amused me. I certainly enjoyed his humor. Do you think your mother would have been a fan of Mary Oliver?

    1. I’m eager to explore more of her work, particularly her essays. I’ve dipped into those (the book of essays is titled Upstream), but have yet to read them all. Some of her poems are very well known, thanks to being passed around the internet, but there are others in her books that I’ve found even more appealing. I’m looking forward to sharing them.

    1. I think so, too. In fact, I’m so sure of it, it doesn’t even feel presumptuous to say so. Best of all, the poem pleases me, and some of you. I can’t ask for more than that.

  7. Fine poem and photo – the photo fits with the poem so well. I’ll take some time to read Mary Oliver today – time for me to get to know better the work of a fellow woods walker.

  8. Oh how I loved this profound tribute to Mary Oliver, Linda. Your poetry is so lovely, you do her proud. I especially liked the last line…thanks to you and Mary for “flooding away the darkness” from my eyes.

    1. I’ve enjoyed sharing her poetry, Jet, and I was pleased to find a way to acknowledge the gratitude we all feel for her life. I’m so glad you enjoyed the poem, and yes: she was a bringer of light.

    1. Blessedly, her voice can continue to speak: to us, and to new generations of readers. To some extent, it may even speak through us, as we take in her words and make them our own, reshaping them for our own purposes.

      I’ve read your lament, and confess I smiled. I’ll be by to read it again — it’s very well done.

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