“The Return” by Mary Oliver


When I went back to the sea
it wasn’t waiting.
Neither had it gone away.
All its musics were safe and sound; the circling gulls
were still a commonplace, the fluted shells
rolled on the shore
more beautiful than money –
oh, yes, more beautiful than money!
The thick-necked seals
stood in the salted waves with their soft, untroubled faces
gazing shoreward –
oh bed of silk,
lie back now on your prairies of blackness your fields of sunlight
that I may look at you.
I am happy to be home.
I do not want to be frisky, and theatrical.
I do not want to go forward in the parade of names.
I do not want to be diligent or necessary or in any way
From my mouth to God’s ear, I swear it; I want only
to be a song.
To wander around in the fields like a little reed bird.
To be a song.
Two eggs rolled from the goose nest
down to the water and halfway into the water.
What good is hoping?
I went there softly, and gathered them
and put them back into the nest
of the goose who bit me hard with her
lovely black beak with the pink
tongue-tip quivering,
and beat my arms with her
lovely long wings
and beat my face with her
lovely long wings,
what good is trying?
She hissed horribly, wanting me to be frightened.
I wasn’t frightened.
I just knew it was over,
those cold white eggs would never hatch,
the birds would forget, soon, and go back,
to the light-soaked pond,
what good is remembering?
But I wasn’t frightened.
Sometimes I really believe it, that I am going to
save my life
a little.
When I found the seal pup alone on the far beach,
not sleeping but looking all around, I didn’t
reason it out, for reason would have sent me away,
I just
went close but not too close, and lay down on the sand
with my back toward it, and
pretty soon it rolled over, and rolled over
until the length of its body lay along
the length of my body, and so we touched, and maybe
our breathing together was some kind of heavenly conversation
in God’s delicate and magnifying language, the one
we don’t dare speak out loud,
not yet.
Rumi the poet was a scholar also.
But Shams, his friend, was an angel.
By which I don’t mean anything patient and sweet,
When I read how he took Rumi’s books and threw them
into the duck pond,
I shouted for joy. Time to live now,
Shams meant.
I see him, turning away
casually toward the road, Rumi following, the books
floating and sinking among the screeching ducks,
oh, beautiful book-eating pond!
The country of the mockingbird is where I now want to be,
thank you, yes.
The days when the snow-white swans might pass over the dunes
are the days I want to eat now, slowly and carefully
and with gratitude. Thank you.
The hours fresh and tidal are the hours I want to hold
in the palm of my hand, thank you, yes.
Such grace, thank you!
The gate I want to open now is the one that leads into
the flower-bed of my mind, thank you, yes.
Every day the slow, fresh wind, thank you, yes.
The wing, in the dark, that touches me.
Thank you.



From What Do We Know: Poems And Prose Poems. Da Capo Press (March 2003).


“Because” by the Beatles, from Abbey Road

10 thoughts on ““The Return” by Mary Oliver

  1. Her poems are filled with such grace. They embody how I want to live my life. Some days I feel I come close, others remind me to stay at peace and continue to say, ‘Yes.’ What a beautiful reminder.

    “From my mouth to God’s ear, I swear it; I want only
    to be a song.
    To wander around in the fields like a little reed bird.
    To be a song.”


    Thank you for posting this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another morning and I wake with thirst
      for the goodness I do not have. I walk
      out to the pond and all the way God has
      given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
      I was never a quick scholar but sulked
      and hunched over my books past the hour
      and the bell; grant me, in your mercy,
      a little more time. Love for the earth
      and love for you are having such a long
      conversation in my heart. 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 slowy learning.

      — Mary Oliver, “Thirst”


  2. Chris Elliott

    Beautiful pairing of Mary Oliver “The Return and the Beatles’ “Because”…straight to the heart. Thank you for bringing light into troubled times. ce

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So kind of you, Chris, thank you.

      Funny, but the light that I try to bring is often the very light that has been brought to me through thoughtful readers as you. I suppose we are all candles, shining as best we can, and sometimes needing to be “re-lit” through the kindness of others.

      Thank you again, christy


  3. Thank you, yes, for this poem Christina, which this morning I read out loud to my husband, whose light is painfully going out with Lewy Body Dementia. Then I read him :”thirst,” which he also appreciated. I am trying in my awkward and inadequate way to help him learn to pray. And many of the words you post help.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You honor me, Barbara, thank you so much. My heart goes with you and your husband. Wishing you both love and comfort and tender moments.

      Prayer comes in all forms… there are many ways to kneel and kiss the sky (to paraphrase Rumi), though the prayer I seem to most utter is “thank you”.

      Do you ever read Anne Lamott? “Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers” and “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy” are especially good.

      “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Meister Eckhart


      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Sunday Morning – Live & Learn

Comments are closed.