“Invitation” by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time
to linger
for just a little while
out of your busy

and very important day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air

as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude –
believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing

just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you,

do not walk by
without pausing
to attend to this
rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
You must change your life.


Mary Oliver, “Invitation,” A Thousand Mornings (New York: Penguin Books, 2013).

4 thoughts on ““Invitation” by Mary Oliver

  1. “Archaic Torso of Apollo”
    Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926

    We cannot know his legendary head
    with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
    is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
    like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

    gleams in all its power. Otherwise
    the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
    a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
    to that dark center where procreation flared.

    Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
    beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
    and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

    would not, from all the borders of itself,
    burst like a star: for here there is no place
    that does not see you. You must change your life.

    From: Ahead of All Parting: Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke


  2. William A. Grimes

    I’m not sure I know what Rilke meant when he concluded that “You must change your life.” but Mary Oliver may be right. I doubt that he was concerned about running to the gym to improve his physique. Like Oliver he could have wanted us to stop and look or rather see. Paying attention to birds of all stripes and colors is a lovely thing in itself, or so it seems to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brian Dean Powers

    William, I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. I can stop and listen to the birds and then run to the gym to improve my physique. Both are ways “to be alive / on this fresh morning / in the broken world.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Will Grimes

      Brian, my comment was specific to Rilke. As someone at the poetry foundation noted:
      “At age eleven Rilke began his formal schooling at a military boarding academy, and in 1891, less than a year after transferring to a secondary military school, he was discharged due to health problems, from which he would suffer throughout his life.” In other words, Rilke’s health issues militated against HIM running to a gym.

      Liked by 1 person

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