by Mary Oliver

Page 7

I thought I'd like to read today a poem I wrote about another poet and a dear friend. Stanley Kunitz lives in Provincetown in the summer, and has for many years and he is well known as an extraordinary poet and person. He's also a very astonishing gardener. His garden is quite famous there. People might not know it's Stanley's, but they-you just stop your car and look in amazement at what he's done. This is a poem I very much wanted to write and it took its form from his garden. There's one line I should explain a little bit. It's a line that says, "Little snakes lie on the boughs," and in this garden, Stanley has a couple of small trees and the little garden snakes come out in the afternoon. They climb the tree and dangle out to have little sunbaths.


I used to imagine him
coming from the house, like Merlin
strolling with important gestures
through the garden
where everything grows so thickly,
where birds sing, little snakes lie
on the boughs, thinking of nothing
but their own good lives,
where petals float upward,
their colors exploding,
and trees open their moist
pages of thunder-
it has happened every summer for years.

But now I know more
about the great wheel of growth,
and decay, and rebirth,
and know my vision for a falsehood.
Now I see him coming from the house-
I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience-
yet willing to labor like that
on the mortal wheel.

Oh, what good it does the heart
to know it isn't magic!
Like the human child I am
I rush to imitate-
I watch him as he bends
among the leaves and vines
to hook some weed or other;
even when I do not see him,
I think of him there
raking and trimming, stirring up
those sheets of fire
between the smothering weights of earth,
the wild and shapeless air.

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Last updated on March 10, 2008
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