1 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. ROW FOR YOUR LIFE "Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes indeed." Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook Yes indeed! I can still feel the heat of Mary Oliver's poem long after I have put it down. It is a prose poem, and one of the most deeply passionate poems on love that I have ever read. Mary Oliver is speaking directly to the way we live. The love in question is of the kind that feeds the whole garden of a life. What does it feel like to live a life of love? What does it take; and what is the alternative? These are the questions that burn through this poem. Oliver, one of the most lyrical poets alive today, speaks plainly here; she has chosen to convey her message in prose. Her choice fits the poem's plain and declarative style. When I read this poem, however, I feel it is not so much she who makes these declarations, as that part of me who recognizes the truth of them. To read this poem aloud is to have the wiser part of yourself counsel the younger, untested heart that lives in us all. You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. Even now, at the age of fifty-seven, and for all the experience that has tried to teach me otherwise, there is a part of me, still young, that is tempted to leap into the boat and start rowing. I can still act as if I know everything. I can pile into an idea or a course of action before I have barely given it the time of day, with what can seem like an arrogant certainty. This is what Oliver calls "the heart's little intelligence": the impulsive response of a heart governed by the emotion of the moment. In that moment, however, full of the rush of my own sense of capability, I feel as if I am getting on with the task at hand. Action is needed, and I'm taking it. Perhaps it's in my hard wiring: most men feel good when they fix things. Sometimes too late, it dawns on me how such "effectiveness" can rip at the fabric of things and discount the filaments of connection that join any one life to another. But listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. "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. If this poem is full of words consonant with sound--"the churn of the water...that unmistakable pounding...the long falls plunging and steaming"--it is because of this: tHousden, Roger is the author of 'Ten Poems to Open Your Heart', published 2003 under ISBN 9781400045631 and ISBN 1400045630.