Excuse Me, I Have Work to Do: Mary Oliver’s Uplifting Calibration of Perspective in Her Poem ‘I Go Down to the Shore’

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“I love the stillness of early summer evenings downtown … the entire stretch along the quiet docks all of this comforts me with sadness when on these evenings I enter the solitude of their ensemble,” Fernando Pessoa wrote while finding calm amid uncertainty and disquiet. “In this moment of seeing, I suddenly find myself isolated, an exile where I’d always thought I was a citizen. At the heart of my thoughts, I wasn’t I.”

To contemplate the beauty of nature, to observe the infinite depth of woods on a snowy evening or friendly warmth of a single pine needle or the majesty of creation in all its mystery, is to step beyond the limited confines of our individual self, beyond its preconceived notions about the world, and to realize that meeting universe on its own terms is the end of suffering.

Creation of the World by Ivan Aivazovsky.

This is what Mary Oliver (September 10, 1935–January 17, 2019) explores in her uplifting poem “I Go Down to the Shore,” included in her book A Thousand Mornings and read here by the poet herself in her warm, aged voice. It reminds us not to give up and find solace in the universal process that shifts our perspective from limited identity to unlimited space.

Mary Oliver.

I GO DOWN TO THE SHORE
by Mary Oliver

I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall —
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

Complement this gem from A Thousand Mornings with Mary Oliver’s equally inspiring poem that invites you to “Put your lips to the world / and live / your life,” and then revisit Matsuo Basho who famously proclaimed, “When we observe calmly, we discover that all things have their fulfillment.

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