Mary Oliver’s Thirst: A Humble Heart Revealed

Poet Mary Oliver evokes the paradoxical quality of living in the “now” and the “not yet.” She draws us into a humble yearning.

thirstOliver’s spot-on specificity reveals an attentive, light-but-longing heart (see Morning Glories, Beside the Waterfall, and The Hermit Crab).

The poet meets us on human dignity’s common ground.

We listen to the heart of the other and our distracted hearts pause in the calming quiet.

What rises in that space is thirst.

“Thirst” leads us to the unquenchable longing for our soul’s deepest desire.

Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have.

This unpossessed goodness keeps the poet in humble awe of the natural world in which “God has given us such beautiful lessons.”   Her lack of understanding drives her prayer:

Oh Lord, I was never  quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time.

Oliver is the icon of an uncommon possibility: a highly accomplished person who possess a humble soul, who can acknowledge her weakness and ask God for “a little more time.”

Her artistic vision is not fully realized even in the wake of much success.  Oliver’s many honors include the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She is America’s best-selling poet.

And yet she thirsts.

Who knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away, expecting
to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
slowly learning.

With the poet we may enter our desert packing only our prayer and our thirst.

Thirst for the goodness we do not have.

sparrow.clrReads and Other Seeds

Read the complete text of Oliver’s poem here. View others at the bottom of this page.

“To run wild with the hope that this thirst will not last long, that it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain…” When contemplating thirst for union with God, this Rich Mullins song is never far from my heart.

Photo by Trevor Wilson on Unsplash.

For more on this series, see Confessions of a Cannonball:  A Lenten Invitation to Hunger for Humility.  To receive new posts in your inbox, Follow Sparrowfare by placing your email address in the follow box.

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2 thoughts on “Mary Oliver’s Thirst: A Humble Heart Revealed

  1. I think we all, everyone, wants “the goodness I do not have” – – – although how we perceive and pursue it are as varied as we are.

    About understanding – I think that’s not quite the same as knowledge. I’ve noticed that the more I know, the more I see that I don’t know, and the more I’m aware of how little I really understand. That can be frustrating – or an opportunity to admire what God’s doing and who God is. I’d rather admire.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. I loved her line about never having been a quick scholar. Yet her poetry reveals a razor sharp attentivness. And I like what you said about how our lack of understanding is an opportunity to admire. To be struck still.

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