I Go Down to the Shore

I Go Down to the Shore, by Mary Oliver

It is not, perhaps, the most cheering of poems.

It is a strong companion, though—when I wake to a day that feels already difficult; or when I’m feeling fine, but I see, in the distance, cloudshadows. Or when I wake up and remember there’s a pandemic on.

I’ve seen this poem cited as an example of American Zen; I recognized Stoicism in it the moment we met. And I recognized power: in the subject, in the composition, in the subtle rhythm you don’t consciously perceive, it just works. Even in the speaker’s voice: power’s opposite—or perhaps, a different power, some kind of acceptance.

I Go Down to the Shore is one of my first adult poem-loves, possibly the first I memorized, and almost certainly my introduction to Mary Oliver’s vast and gorgeous (and powerful) body of work. It’s a good poem to have in your heart because it seeps and settles into interstices you haven’t yet mapped. Even if you haven’t spoken it aloud in years, it will be waiting for you there when you discover them.


I Go Down to the Shore is the first (if you don’t count Warning), in a year-long series of twice-monthly memorized poems. Some of these poems are part of me already; more will be new. You can suggest poems, comment on them, or take issue with my recitation (be kind; I’m new at this) here in the comments or by emailing me directly. This project still needs a name; if you’ve got ideas, I’m listening.

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6 thoughts on “I Go Down to the Shore

  1. I love, love Mary Oliver.

    An idea for a project name: this line of yours really struck me “…to graft them onto my heart, I use speech.” So maybe the Poetry Grafting Project, or To Graft a Poem or Heart-Poetry Grafting…something along those lines…

    Like

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