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The Journey by Mary Oliver: A Poem for Writing and Healing

Posted on Apr 26, 2007 by

A few weeks ago now a reader of this site sent me some poems by Mary Oliver. (Thank you.) Out of the poems she sent, the one that strikes me most—the one that seems to fit best with the thread of this month—two steps forward and one step back—is this poem by Oliver that I’ve seen in a number of places. It’s a poem that speaks to that in the world which would pull us back. It’s a poem that speaks to what can sometimes be required in order to move forward.

The full text is here.

It’s a poem that seems to have touched a chord with a number of people.

Ten years ago, the NAPT (the National Association for Poetry Therapy) did a survey of poetry therapists, asking them which poems they most often selected to use with clients, and it turns out that of twenty-two poems frequently selected, this poem—The Journey—was at the very top of the list.

The poem speaks to a stark truth—that sometimes—in certain situations—one has to do what is necessary to save one’s own life—first—–

It’s a poem of rather haunting images and I suspect that’s one of the reasons it so often touches people. The way that images—poetic language—can sometimes touch us at a deep place when other kinds of ordinary language can’t quite—

Today, these images—these eight lines from the middle of the poem—are the ones that strike me most:

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations—
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.