Thoughts on thoughts (of Mary Oliver)

“Foolishness, No It’s Not” by Mary Oliver

“Sometimes I spend all day trying to count

the leaves on a single tree. To do this I

have to climb branch by branch and

write down the numbers in a little book.

So I suppose, from their point of view,

it’s reasonable that my friends say: what

foolishness! She’s got her head in the clouds


But it’s not. Of course I have to give up,

but by then I’m half crazy with the wonder

of it — the abundance of the leaves, the

quietness of the branches, the hopelessness

of my effort. And I am in that delicious

and important place, roaring with laughter,

full of earth-praise.”


Ahhhh just take a moment to soak that up. Read it again. Maybe read it twice more.

I often find myself reading Mary Oliver and thinking “Well, Mary, you just took the words right out of my mouth!”

Like my personal style, Oliver likes to write in prose and often about nature. I particularly like how she hides strong feelings and beliefs and ideas behind the trees and mountains that she paints with her words. Sometimes it takes a second read and a good wracking of the mind to understand fully what Oliver writes.

This particular poem is gorgeous. I hope I am not mistaken in my interpretation of it, but then again how can you be wrong in your interpretation? Naturally, I want to understand Oliver’s poem as she intended it to be understood, but if I gather joy from understanding in a way all my own, good for me!

The tree that Oliver climbs in the first stanza is really a question that she is venturing to ask — a big question about one of life’s big mysteries. How many leaves are on a single tree?… What came first, the tree or the seed? Is there a God? If so, is His name Jesus Christ?… Head in the clouds, head in the clouds. I too so often have my head in the clouds, asking and pondering and searching. And indeed, as Oliver says, it is all “hopeless,” for we will likely never have such questions answered in concrete ways. And that leaves us feeling dazed and empty inside, which is somehow in this case synonymous to feeling lovely and joyous and absolutely, positively “delicious.”

I never really want to climb down from this tree, to tell you the truth.

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