Kate Evans: A favorite poem

by Mary Oliver

Because of the way this poem looks as though it’s stepping down, down, down—I can feel the bear coming down the mountain as I read.  This poem has the perfect use of a colon and a question.  At the end of the fourth stanza, I can’t help but hold my breath at the colon.  And then the question (“how to love this world”) always takes me by surprise, even on the zillionth reading.  I love how the fierce images of the bear (sharpening her claws, her tongue “like a red fire”) add up to an oxymoron of “dazzling darkness.”

Kate Evans
Lecturer, San Jose State University


    a black bear
        has just risen from sleep
            and is staring

down the mountain.
    All night
        in the brisk and shallow restlessness
            of early spring

I think of her,
    her four black fists
        flicking the gravel,
            her tongue

like a red fire
    touching the grass,
        the cold water.
            There is only one question:

how to love this world.
    I think of her
            like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
    the silence
        of the trees.
            Whatever else

my life is
    with its poems
        and its music
            and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
        down the mountain,
            breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her–
    her white teeth,
        her wordlessness,
            her perfect love.

Mary Oliver



Filed under Favorite Poem

2 responses to “Kate Evans: A favorite poem

  1. Vicki L. Harvey

    Mary Oliver is one great poet and woman. I feel the Spring season in this piece.

  2. We are privileged to simply live in the time of Mary Oliver. Thank you for sharing.

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