Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Goldenrod, by Mary Oliver



On roadsides,
    in fall fields,
      in rumpy branches,
          saffron and orange and pale gold,

in little towers,
    soft as mash,
        sneeze-bringers and seed-bearers,
             full of bees and yellow beads and perfect flowerets

and orange butterflies.
    I don't suppose
       much notice comes of it, except for honey,
            and how it heartens the heart with its

blank blaze.
    I don't suppose anything loves it except, perhaps,
         the rocky voids
              filled by its dumb dazzle.

For myself,
    I was just passing by, when the wind flared
        and the blossoms rustled,
             and the glittering pandemonium

leaned on me.
    I was just minding my own business
          when I found myself on their straw hillsides,
              citron and butter-colored,

and was happy, and why not?
    Are not the difficult labors of our lives
        full of dark hours?
           And what has consciousness come to anyway, so far,

that is better than these light-filled bodies?
    All day
         on their airy backbones
             they toss in the wind,

they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
    they rise in a stiff sweetness,
         in the pure peace of giving
            one's gold away.

~ Mary Oliver

The poem "Goldenrod" was published in New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1992.


Lorenzo said...

Ah, Ruth, the poem is sublime and has found such perfect handmaidens in your lovely photographs.

The 'blank blaze', the 'glittering pandemonium', the lush light and coloring makes one nearly giddy until that arresting revelatory ending:

"...they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,
they rise in a stiff sweetness,
in the pure peace of giving
one's gold away."

Your post today makes me feel like one of those "rocky voids filled by its dumb dazzle". It is a good feeling, being released for this one exalted instant from the "consciousness" whose merits Mary Oliver questions, or at least relativizes.

Loring Wirbel said...

You get some dazzling results with that macro lens. I'm assuming no PhotoShop tricks with color were used? It's so remarkable.

Seems like I might have read that Mary Oliver poem at some point, but thanks so much for re-introducing us to it.

deb said...

Mary Oliver.

and you....
as always , perfectly everything. and so so appreciated.

Bonnie said...

Ahhhh - "...the pure peace of giving one's gold away."

When I read dear Mary all my cells right themselves, stand at attention, and remember why.

Thank you Ruth.

Shari Sunday said...

Beautiful poem and wonderful pictures. Wish I could see them in person.

George said...

Thanks for the recitation of this lovely Mary Oliver poem. The question for each of us is this: Are we willing to give our gold away for the chance of pure peace? If one's "gold" is that which is treasured most, I'm not sure what the answer would be. For some reason, just thinking about the question reminds me of what I recall is the last line of Miguel de Unamuno's great book, "The Tragic Sense of Life."

"May God deny you peace but give you glory!"

Maybe the question is always this: What is the cost of pure peace? I know that Mary Oliver was not seeking to address this issue, but that's where the poem leads me. Funny thing about poetry; it can often have unintended consequences.

Oliag said...

Mary Oliver can describe things perfectly...she may have just been "passing by...minding her own business" but brightens our day with her own golden words....

Your photos are the perfect illustration too...I think of them as the gold that you are giving away today:)

willow said...

The summer is golden-rod-ripe! Beautiful images paired with Oliver's poem. And how serendipitous for the little lady bug to pose for you!

Patricia said...

Thank you for this post and for your lively images. Your photographs elevate this humble plant. I have been waiting for them to bloom because I want to make some dye. I know that the "gold" will transfer to silk easily, at least I hope!

Sidney said...

What a lovely poem... and matching images.

dutchbaby said...

Wonderful photo with the lady bug and poem to match. The "perfect flowerets" on "airy backbones" make this plant so popular with florists. They are a nice bright yellow alternative to baby's breath. I never knew its common name; we always call it Solidago.

Terresa said...

Mary Oliver always wakes me up, brings me outside to shake off and breathe. Thanks for the breath today.

Ann said...

when I was in Singapore,
when I wasn't so addicted
To this thing called Blogging,
All I did was email.
I was the unofficial gardener,
Of an institution,
Called the university.
I grew lots of plants.
My Golden Rod stood up high.
And gained much admiration.
Alas today, I am captured by the blogging ghost.
No more plants from my hands.
So thanks Ruth,
for fond memories.

Ruth said...

Lorenzo, I was quite struck also, with and what has this consciousness come to, so far?, comparing by implication what we as humans strive for so stridently, and what these tall, slim creatures reaching for the sun do simply. I get overwhelmed by goldenrod in our meadow, because it fills it, more than any other wildflower. I try to see it in different lights at various times of day. I try to go out when the mosquitoes aren't attacking, but sometimes they do, and still, the gold just infuses the air, and I swat in some kind of frenzy of gold. I look forward to this time of year as a sort of flower's new year celebration. They do look like fireworks, now that I think of it. :)

Ruth said...

Loring, guess what? I didn't use the macro for these shots. The ladybug was exactly 2 years ago, and I didn't have the macro then. The dewdrops one was exactly one year ago, when I did have the macro (new birthday gift), but I think I used the regular 55 mm. And the other two are from yesterday morning. I'm glad you enjoy these, because goldenrod is among my very favorite subjects, my friend.

Ruth said...

Thank you very much, Deb. Of course you know that I am not perfectly anything, except human maybe. But I'm happy you feel satisfied with this post. Funny how sometimes you can spend (I can spend) so long on a post to get it to a point where I'm content with it. And some, like this one, come in an instant . . . well it felt that way, though I did spend time with this gold in the meadow. I like that actually, more time with the subject than sitting here on my laptop writing or creating. Of course our Ms. Oliver had put in her time, hadn't she. Both in the meadows and country roads, and in the words, and in life. Is there anyone who can feel this integration of Nature and the human as she does?

Susan said...

A lovely way to start my day, my friend. It is so dry here the goldenrod is struggling to burst forth its beauty. Crossing my fingers for rain tonight.

I love the perfect ladybug picture...and it's a true ladybug, not one of those imported lady beetle imposters.

Ruth said...

Bonnie, what you wrote . . . When I read dear Mary all my cells right themselves, stand at attention, and remember why. . . had the same effect on me. What a great way to describe the contentment of living in the moment!

Ruth said...

Shari, I wish you could see them in person too. I know it has been terribly hot down there in Florida, and I hope you're getting relief now, or soon. It's been a very hot summer here, but we are getting rains that are cooling things off. I think the goldenrod is not quite as full and fluffy this year, but maybe it will open up more now that it gets a drink.

Ruth said...

George, thank you for the time you spent with this post's conjurings. I wish we were sitting together, drinking tea or coffee, so that we could back-and-forth discuss this topic. It's loaded, so loaded, for me, and the last line from Miguel de Unamuno's book sends me in another direction, which is a tough one, and one that I don't want to retread. Having grown up with church and parents who espoused death to self, I had the wrong sense of my self in those important shaping years, so that I didn't even know if I had any gold to give away. That sense of denying my own gold is something I've been working on for many years (living the question, as Bonnie posted). If gold is what is most valuable in us, now I see it as something we naturally give away, as it is refined. It's not something I have to think about, it is not something I choose to hold or give, but it spills over as I live. I see that in you too, from what I know of you at Transit Notes. Who you are spills out, you give it away in that sense, but I don't think of you as doing anything other than what you love to do, and sharing it with us. I don't think of any sacrifice, but of multiplying who you are through the reflection in others' lives.

Ruth said...

Thank you, dear Oliag. I agree with you about Ms. Oliver. She has that uncanny knack of making me think she has just passed by, but there can be no doubt that she connects with the essence of Life and its multitude of characters so deeply, that the work she does is both internal, and external in her words, which are crafted well enough to make me feel that they are easy.

I'm glad you enjoyed the gold of goldenrod here. I am still absorbing your gold in your Mainely Food post, which is giving me soul food this morning.

Ruth said...

Thank you, willow. I am not a very patient photographer, so bugs and butterflies are captured on my sensor only when they are stuck in some sort of stupor. I was thrilled to find this lady two years ago, when the ripe goldenrod golded up the meadow.

Ruth said...

Patricia, thank you. That's interesting about using goldenrod for dye, I didn't realize it would translate that way. I hope you will have success for your silk. It's also interesting, because one of the photos I shot yesterday of goldenrod was of it enmeshed with a pokeberry bush. As you probably know, pokeberry is a potent dye plant, and it was the source of the ink for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, from what I've read. Lesley has boiled it for dye here at the farm. Please tell me your results from goldenrod.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Sidney.

I am enjoying your street photography series so much. I didn't think you could improve on yours, but you're showing how great street photography can be, with just the right elements of spontaneity and human interest. Keep it up, my friend!

Ruth said...

Dutchbaby, I remember the word solidago now that you mention it. Maybe from when I helped my sister with flower arrangements. It is a beautiful alternative to baby's breath (which seems passé now) and was in the bouquet Don had ordered and waiting for us at my birthday dinner at a restaurant (photo posted in my French country post). :)

George said...

I think some clarification is in order about what I was thinking when I quoted the line from Miguel de Unamuno — "May God deny you peace but give you glory!"

First, when I use the term "God" — which I usually try to avoid because of its potential for misleading people — I do not think of the anthropomorphic and monarchal figure that I learned about as a child. I think, instead, of the ineffable mystery that is the source of everything, "the ground of all being," as Tillich stated. Second, when I implied that I would be reluctant to give away my gold in exchange from peace, I was thinking that my "gold" — that which I value most — is the divine right to live an authentic and creative life — my life, not the life that my family, my friends, or my culture has imagined for me. If living fully that authentic life requires some disharmony with others, it is a price that I must pay. To put another way, I cannot allow the need for peace and harmony to compromise the full expression of authenticity.

When I read Unamuno's statement in the context of my own definitions, I understand it to be a declaration that peace is less important on our journey than the fulfillment of our life's purpose, our destiny. Stated another way, the questing heart should be prepared to encounter and withstand struggle.

With reference to the earlier experiences of your own life, I see Unamuno's statement as supporting the full expression of the authentic self, not the denial of it.

You're right, Ruth. We need a long discussion about these issues over tea or coffee. During the meantime, thanks for prompting all of this discussion and allowing me to return with this small clarification.

Ruth said...

Terresa, your waking up, shaking off and breathing as a result of reading Ms. Oliver reminds me of Bonnie's cells getting straightened comment. How phenomenal it is, that there is one poet who registers this way for so many of us!

I often feel this way after reading your poems.

Ruth said...

Ann, a legendary stalk of goldenrod, with an airy backbone? As I see it, you accomplished something memorable with that plant, and now you accomplish another kind of shared growth at your blogs, which show extraordinary things in this world, like your luxury bidet with a remote control!!

Ruth said...

Oh, so Susie Q, you didn't get our rain yet? I thought its arm swept over you too yesterday. It was a beautiful, gentle rain, so needed here too. I hope you are getting some today, my dear.

I did not know this was a true ladybug. (She did not mention it.) But now that you bring it to my attention, I think I can recognize the difference. She is a beauty, isn't she?

Ruth said...

Dear George ~

Thank you abundantly for returning and continuing this discourse. I am in the presence of a master (I hope that does not embarrass you, because I really mean it), and my mind and heart are stretched by this conversation, which is very, very welcome and pleasurable for me. I learn so much from you. [bowing, hand on heart]

I didn’t respond to the part in your first comment about how poems can lead us into unintended consequences, which is so true. The best poems provide material for the reader to do just that. One idea needs to another, and each of us as individuals have whole universes whirling inside. I think that your comment did the same, for me, which led me into unintended (by you) consequences. I should have stated that in my response explicitly. But now you are back, and so I can elaborate too. Yay.

In response to your first clarification about what you mean by “God” – I am not at all surprised. Me too. When I say God, I’m thinking Life -- including that mystery.

As for the rest of your clarification – so clear! – how I love it. What I thought from your first comment was that you meant that the cost of giving away one’s gold might be sacrificing one’s own inner peace. But no! As you describe it, I am in utter agreement and harmony. We may encounter conflicts with our fellow humans, who do not understand our gold, and our expression of it. However, our own authentic self, when strong, can withstand that tempest. I have experienced this profoundly in the past week, so I know whereof I speak. I can’t tell you how good it feels (inner peace) to know that something I chose to do, which had painful consequences, was still treasured in me, because I knew I did what came from my authentic self. What has come about since then, is what I hoped would come, which follows that heart hope we have, that if we do what is right for ourselves, it will be right for others: the pain has been turned into joy, because the other person involved got over their pain and came back with demonstrable love. Ain’t that great?!

Peter said...

You are not the author of the poem, but of the perfect pictures that go with it! That's fine enough for me!

(I was happy to se that Rauf is back blogging!)

Ruth said...

Peter, you are such a good friend, to focus on my contribution to Mary Oliver's brilliant poem. :)

Oh yes! I actually wept after reading rauf's post, just so touched by him again, after so many months.

Pat said...

I love goldenrod and watching as the breeze makes it dance on the side of the road. This is a lovely poem and your photos are just gorgeous.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Pat. I bet you get to see a lot of goldenrod when you're on the road.

Ginnie said...

What a sweet, fun, frollicky poem, Ruth. You could have written that! I love that you have this gold on your farm and that you're inspired by Mother Nature...and pass on the inspiration to us! Thank you.