Poetry Friday: Suffering in the classroom when it’s at last Spring outdoors…Mary Oliver


Poetry Friday is hosted by Diane at Random Noodling

This is one of my favorite volumes of poetry: 
My own copy is in shambles – tattered and worn from years of overuse.   But, Mary Oliver never fails me, just opening the book to a random page is an exercise in surprise and delight. Take this poem, for instance.  I opened to it and began reading with a smile – it made me think of my students, coming back to school from Spring Break and none too happy about it.  Each line caught that helpless resentment and fury that I was sure lurked within each of my sixth graders – back indoors and in the classroom when the world outside was glorying in Spring…ugh!  And then, the surprise ending – unexpected and rather lovely.  I do love Mary Oliver…

Spring in the Classroom
Elbows on dry books, we dreamed
Past Miss Willow Bangs, and lessons, and windows,
To catch all day glimpses and guesses of the greening woodlot,
Its secrets and increases,
Its hidden nests and kind.
And what warmed in us was no book-learning,
But the old mud blood murmuring,
Loosening like petals from bone sleep.
So spring surrounded the classroom, and we suffered to be kept indoors,
Droned through lessons, carved when we could with jackknives
Our pulsing initials into the desks, and grew
Angry to be held so, without pity and beyond reason,
By Miss Willow Bangs, her eyes two stones behind glass,
Her legs thick, her heart
In love with pencils and arithmetic.

So it went — one gorgeous day lost after another
While we sat like captives and breathed the chalky air
And the leaves thickened and birds called
From the edge of the world — till it grew easy to hate,
To plot mutiny, even murder. Oh, we had her in chains,
We had her hanged and cold, in our longing to be gone!
And then one day, Miss Willow Bangs, we saw you
As we ran wild in our three o’clock escape
Past the abandoned swings; you were leaning
All furry and blooming against the old brick wall
In the Art Teacher’s arms.

Mary Oliver

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12 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: Suffering in the classroom when it’s at last Spring outdoors…Mary Oliver

  1. I like these lines, And what warmed in us was no book-learning,But the old mud blood murmuring,Loosening like petals from bone sleep.Thanks for sharing this new-to-me poem.

  2. I don't know this one, either, Tara. How beautiful, & I guess you can't share with the students, but it says it all, doesn't it? I love "her heartIn love with pencils and arithmetic." Guess that's what the students believe, & they're at least a little bit right!

  3. Hi, Tara. I picked out the same lines as Diane (though "mud blood" has come to mean something different since Harry Potter!) But that surprise at the end — wow. Beautiful poem!

  4. " To catch all day glimpses and guesses of the greening woodlot,Its secrets and increases,Its hidden nests and kind."This is exactly how I feel driving to work these days. I so relate to this -" So it went — one gorgeous day lost after anotherWhile we sat like captives and breathed the chalky airAnd the leaves thickened and birds calledFrom the edge of the world "But I will not hate! I love my job – just hate rushing through the spring with no time to linger. I guess that's what weekends are for?

  5. Fabulous poem…love the line: "While we sat like captives and breathed the chalky air" both as student and then as teacher. Captures the emotion perfectly. Going to look up more of Mary Oliver's work. =)

  6. Tara–Like you, Mary Oliver is one of my favorites, and I'd never seen this poem. I love how the kids think their teacher's in love with pencils and books, and then she ends up out back kissing the art teacher! An absolutely perfect poem for spring!

  7. I've thought about joining (starting?) a Mary Oliver fan club. Why no t-shirts of her, yet? This poem made me think of Heidi, taking her kindergartners outside. And what a perfect ending!

  8. Another Mary Oliver fan, and I hadn't read this one either! Thanks so much for sharing. "Loosening like petals from bone sleep" – brilliant.And what a fantastic ending!Happy Spring, Tara.

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