In honor of the summer solstice, some poetic inspiration from Mary Oliver, who asks, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?"
"The Summer Day" first appeared in House of Light (Beacon Press, 1990), and has been reprinted in New and Selected Poems, Volume 1 (Beacon Press, 1992) and The Truro Bear and Other Adventures (Beacon Press, 2008).
This poem, which many refer to as "The Grasshopper," is one of the best-known and often quoted of Mary Oliver's work. This recording of the poet reading her own work is from At Blackwater Pond, an audio CD of Mary Oliver reading forty of her poems.
Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Mary Oliver has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has also received the Shelley Memorial Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award; the Christopher Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light; the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems; a Lannan Foundation Literary Award; and the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence.
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The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Copyright @ 1990 by Mary Oliver. First published in House of Light, Beacon Press. Reprinted in The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays, Beacon Press.