In Memorium: Mary Oliver

The celebrated poet Mary Oliver has left us at the age of 83.

Details of her life and achievements may be found here, but I’d like to say, as an Atheopagan, how meaningful her work was to me, and, I think, to all who find grace and meaning in the movements and manifestations of the natural world.

Oliver’s poetry was conversational, accessible. Mostly, she wrote in complete sentences broken by white space. Not for her the opacity that so often passes for “great poetry”; hers was a body of work addressed to people who live here, in the world, and who are struck by moments of wonder and reflection. She famously said, “poetry mustn’t be fancy”.

We’ve all read it many times, but I will close with her most famous work, “Wild Geese”, in which she reminds us of the eternal beauty of this Sacred Earth, and that each of us has a place in the world.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

 

In Memorium: Ursula K. Le Guin, Cultural Radical and Deep Humanist

Ursula K. LeGuin has died.

I won’t recount her many works or the impact she had on speculative fiction in her long career as a writer. That information can be found in the obituary linked above, and elsewhere.

No, this is a personal memorial. For of all writers, I believe Ursula K. Le Guin’s impact on me has been the most profound.

She dared to ask subversive questions. What if there were no gender? What if people in wealthy societies were required to confront the suffering that supports them? What if human society successfully integrated technology and rich culture and environmental sustainability?

What if…what if…what if.

She wrote with such a depth of humanity, such an unflinching moral lens, and such playfulness. Her characters breathed and grew; her worlds delighted and terrified. She had an eye for emotional detail and a vision that sprawled across Universes.

Daughter of the famed anthropology Alfred Kroeber (whose compassionate friendship with the California Native man “Ishi” was itself a ground-breaking study in humanity), she understood that “normal” is a cultural spectrum, and culture can be a powerful driver for change.

She reminded us that history is long, and even what we think may be unshakable can, indeed, be shaken:

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

Le Guin’s writing was an early inspiration to me to care about justice and work for a better world: not only politically, but culturally. The two main things I have done in my life that I hope will have lasting impact are the founding and leadership (for its first ten years) of an effective local environmental organization–still going strong in year 27–and my work to articulate, collaborate in developing, and spread the word about Atheopaganism.

Both are consistent with the vision, humanity, and values that Ms. Le Guin so brilliantly embodied in her work. Her work provoked me, instructed me, warmed and moved me.

It is dark tonight in Orsinia, and I am sad.

I will miss her terribly.