“The only chance to love this world”: Buddhist mindfulness in Mary Oliver's poetry

26 October 2012

The article examines selected poems by Mary Oliver from a Buddhist reader's perspective, with a particular focus on Buddhist mindfulness (smrti in Sanskrit and sati in Pali). Her personal style and use of various poetic devices enable the Buddhist reader to uncover mindfulness in her poetry. Since articles are, by their very nature, limited in scope, I will examine only the following three corollaries of mindfulness in Oliver's poetry: 1) Beginner's Mind (called shoshin in Zen Buddhism), 2) Mindful Awareness, and 3) Nowness which constitutes being fully present in the here-and-now. These three corollaries are by no means exhaustive. Mindfulness constitutes a broad theme within Buddhism, and different corollaries may be emphasised by the various Buddhist traditions, schools and sects. I utilise these particular corollaries of mindfulness because they are especially pertinent to her poetry. Furthermore, I will illustrate how they inform Oliver's amazement at, and love relationship with, the natural world, which constitute major topoi in Oliver's work. In addition, I will be discussing these under separate headings to aid the understanding of how each particularly functions within her poetry. However, although these are discussed in more isolation than usual, these corollaries are not mutually exclusive, but interrelated constituents of mindfulness.