This is a section of the poem The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac, by Mary Oliver. It’s one of the few poems she wrote about dealing with lung cancer.
I especially like the part where she says “do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going?” It reminds me of a very recent conversation I had with a friend and author by the name of Kim Kelly (I’ll put the interview piece up later), who said: “I think in an awful way, some of the best things that happened to me are some of the worst things to happen to me.” For Kim, it was the dark times, such as experiencing her mother go cold in her hands and watching her husband become terribly ill, that dared her to live a fuller life.
I think that’s something great people, like Mary Oliver and my friend Kim (who’d be weirded out I’m placing her and Mary Oliver in the same sentence, even though she’s also a great writer), have in common. They do not let the bad parts of life define them, but use them as a catalyst for living life just a little deeper, a little braver, and to be just a little more grateful.
That’s not to say they don’t grieve deeply or feel great pain before getting to that place; you can’t skip the pain and get straight to gratitude. Even in her 2015 interview on Beyond Being you could still hear the pain in Mary Oliver’s voice – a woman in her 70s – as she spoke briefly of her father. Kim, too, says that she went through some “hard roads”. So I don’t want to appear to be saying great people don’t feel pain.
Nope… they feel it, deeply. But they also take what they need from it.
The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac:
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.