“The Return” by Mary Oliver

The deed took all my heart.
I did not think of you,
Not ’til the thing was done.
I put my sword away
And then no more the cold
And perfect fury ran
Along my narrow bones
And then no more the black
And dripping corridors
Hold anywhere the shape
That I had come to slay.
Then for the first time,
I saw in the cave’s belly
The dark and clotted webs,
The green and sucking pools,
The rank and crumbling walls,
The maze of passages.

And I thought then
Of the far earth,
Of the spring sun
And the slow wind,
And a young girl,
And I looked then
At the white thread.

Hunting the minotaur
I was no common man
And had no need of love.
I trailed the shining thread
Behind me, for a vow,
And did not think of you.
It lay there, like a sign,
Coiled on the bull’s great hoof.
And back into the world,
Half blind with weariness
I touched the thread and wept.
O, it was frail as air,
And I turned then
With the white spool

Through the cold rocks,
Through the black rocks.
Through the long webs,
And the mist fell,
And the webs clung.
And the rocks tumbled,
And the earth shook.

And the thread held.


From New and Selected Poems, Volume One

5 thoughts on ““The Return” by Mary Oliver

    1. Mary Oliver is as close to a soothing balm for our souls as we can get. Seems no matter my mood, there is an Oliver piece to either lift it, or to commiserate or distract or prioritize. And by prioritize, I mean to remind us what is most important…she’s done that with more urgency as she’s grown older.

      I’ll be sharing more of her work in the weeks ahead. (I have her new collection of selected poems, Devotions, and I absolutely love it.)


  1. Brian Dean Powers

    Very early Mary Oliver, mid-1960s, before she really hit her stride I think. But there’s the urge toward simple statements, and the connection to nature.


    1. Indeed. From “No Voyage and Other Poems” 1963 and 1965 (per her most recent collection Devotions — which is BRILLIANT, by the way). I mentioned to friends that I was surprised how dark much of her earliest work was. Though it does explain much of her current(ish) and most popular hope-filled pieces…how she couldn’t have written of the light so well, had she not walked through her own darkness.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Brian Dean Powers

        Her book DREAM WORK felt quite dark to me. The poems sometimes seemed the result of therapy. I don’t think she actually named the darkness of her childhood until recently, but the reader could feel the injury. That collection has some of her best work, and best known.


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