I culled this poem from Roger Housden‘s collection, “Ten Poems to Open Your Heart,” a great follow up to his “Ten Poems to Change Your Life.”
West Wind #2 by Mary Oliver
You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life toward it.
Housden shares an interpretation of each poem he profiles, and here’s an excerpt of what he says about West Wind #2:
“Listen to me, Oliver calls out three times. It is always three times that the cock crows. She calls, not to the youth in us, not to the impulsive heart that knows and sees the world with a naive and definite clarity; she speaks to our soul. The soul knows in a different way. It gathers honey in the dark from near and far. The soul is always connected to a larger life. It is joined by invisible threads to the soul of all other things, and in this way, the world whispers to it without ceasing. That is why it is natural for the soul to pause, to listen, to wonder. Only the soul in us has the time to listen deeply.
Mary Oliver is speaking directly to that part of you and me that knows, however faintly, that when we rush into life, when we leap into action without any connection to the deeper currents that move through us always, we are acting without love. Our oars thrash at the water, and we break the gossamer web of life this way. There is indeed a life without love, she says. It is quite possible to live a life in which your soul plays no part. You can jump up and down with every passing impulse, and never hear the whispering call that is there all along. On the other hand, you can live a busy, efficient existence full of duties and responsibilities and never even know there is a deeper life. You can be successful, a bright star, even. But your nights may carry other voices on the wings of dreams. Whispers of great empty spaces, lonely and afraid.”