A Poem for Our Time

Yesterday, as I paged through a nice collection of Mary Oliver’s poetry, Devotions, I found a poem, published in 2008, that characterizes the state of our nation and our world better than countless learned articles that attempt to explain us to ourselves.

Mary Oliver, 1935-2019

OF THE EMPIRE by Mary Oliver

“We will be known as a culture that feared death

and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity

for the few and cared little for the penury of the

many. We will be known as a culture that taught

and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke

little if at all about the quality of life for

people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All

the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a

commodity. And they will say that this structure

was held together politically, which it was, and

they will say also that our politics was no more

than an apparatus to accomodate the feelings of

the heart, and that the heart, in those days,

was small, and hard, and full of meanness.”


9 thoughts on “A Poem for Our Time

  1. I was quite moved by this poem, for its simplicity in summing up our world …….but ….she doesn’t allow for transcending music. Made me think of Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Seventh Seal’ where the only survvors are he artists. thanksfor posting..


    • That’s interesting Edie – I’m not sure I see the parallel to Seventh Seal. Increasingly it seems to me that survival is going to be a bottoms up kind of thing – awakening creativity as well as tolerance in each of us, for clearly we can’t depend on it flowing down from the oligarchs. Kind of a hundred monkey/tipping point kind of thing as people begin to look, think, react, and start to live differently.


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