Poetry Friday: From “Upstream” by Mary Oliver

Poetry Friday is hosted by Jama Rattigan @ Jama’s Alphabet Soup

What a week.

It began with such a sense of elated optimism, sure that I’d be celebrating the election of Hillary Clinton, a woman I’ve much admired, as President of our great country. Then came Tuesday night’s nightmarish conclusion.  Shock.  Revulsion. And such utter sadness.

We have elected a President, but this is not my President.

And here I am, at week’s end, hearing all sorts of sorry news about hateful acts unleashed by this President-elect.  The shoe is on the other foot, I want to take back my country.  I don’t recognize an America where a race baiting, misogynistic, ignorant excuse of a grown man can be elected to hold the highest office in the land…to take the place of our current President, a man of honor, grace, and dignity.

I want my country back…four years is an eternity to wait.

Today, I lost myself for a while in Mary Oliver’s new collection of essays:


Her quiet voice took me to a place of contemplation and peace.  Through her words I could hear the rustle of wind through woodland trails, the steady roar of the ocean, the mysterious habits of small creatures … the serene world of Mary Oliver who observes nature with such reverence.

I needed this break from the all too real world of this election’s aftermath,and its most pressing concern for me: how to keep my students focused on kindness, how to keep empathy at the center of our world view, how to grow the seeds of compassion and respect for our common humanity…how to do the work of positive teaching in a larger climate of negativity and hate.

And I needed to keep returning to this passage:


I will be thinking of this passage on Monday, when my students return to our classroom. Attention and devotion – the pathway to a better world.


25 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: From “Upstream” by Mary Oliver

  1. Tara, what a beautiful passage from Mary Oliver. I love her writing. The way she sees things in the world, the most ordinary things, that we should all relish as the extraordinary things they are. This will find its way to my WRN– to make sure I remember to “teach the children.”

  2. I share your sadness. And love the excerpt you shared from Oliver’s new book: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” Thanks to this community, I’ve become a much more attentive citizen of our world.

  3. I’m going to send this to my daughter, who was at a loss about how to explain what happened on Tuesday to my 9-year-old grandson. Mary Oliver’s advice feels good for the long-term. Thanks for sharing it, Tara.

  4. What a beautiful passage. I plan to head out to buy two copies of Upstream today–one for me and one for my 21-year old daughter, who texted me snippets of Mary Oliver while seeking solace on Wednesday. Love this–“Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

  5. Yes! “Stand them in the stream.” So much beauty in the world — we can learn so much from nature. Looking forward to meeting you, Tara! xo

  6. That is a beautiful passage. My high-school-aged son tells me that young girls at his school are concerned for their future now that we have a President-Elect who bragged about assaulting women and then dismissed concerns as unimportant. They worry if they can be safe in the world. I’m at a loss to reassure. Perhaps Mary Oliver has it right. Teach them to develop a strong core, a peaceful inner place, that they can find at hard times. Then when the world knocks them down, they can get back up and fight. As we have had to do, and as we always have to do again. Hugs to everyone.

  7. Yes, I celebrate Mary Oliver’s words, prescient perhaps considering she wrote this long before the election results? “Rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.” Thank you for helping us celebrate words that matter! We can do this, and do it well!

  8. Before I opened my computer to read your post, I was reading Upstream. I believe Oliver’s words provide us a place of respite and reorientation. She is a powerful and essential force that can give us strength and focus for what we need to do. What a perfect title…Upstream.

  9. I think I am doing the stages of grief in all the wrong order, stuck in a whirlpool of anger and despair. Thanks for sharing Oliver’s verdant, reverent voice with us today.

  10. “Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of a world salvaged from the lords of profit.” Gut-wrenching. The lord of profit was just elected president. What are we in for?

  11. I finished Oliver’s gorgeous book last week, but it’s a book to return to and savor. These words are so hopeful: “Rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.” Thank you for your heart-felt words, Tara.

  12. Attention is the beginning of devotion….such a wow after reading of all the details above. I think one of the positive things I will do for me is to get this book and soak in some healing poetry. Thanks so much for this. And, I’m so glad YOU are in front of our children. It’s important and it matters.

  13. Heading outside, healing as we spend time in nature — yes. That’s a good way to replenish our strength as we work on becoming a country that believes in empathy and compassion.

  14. I found you through Pinterest….I came to see if you had written out the words, so I could copy them into my notepad to keep them up front on my computer. But after reading your post, I wanted to say — I hope you have found that things are not as bad as you feared. If you still feel afraid, turn off the news and you’ll realize how much they have been lying to us. Go directly to the source, and look at actions.

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