In Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Moth, The Mountains, The Rivers,” she writes:
“Who can guess the luna’s sadness who lives so briefly? Who can guess the impatience of stone longing to be ground down, to be part again of something livelier? Who can imagine in what heaviness the rivers remember their original clarity? // Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile time with them. … ”
Reading these questions, questions not so different than ones I often enough ponder as I place reverence for the ancient earth and presume it worse off than before, or such things as I perceive them, I now wonder about Mary’s (and my) human-centric filter that is used in these thoughts, this way of viewing nature.
Maybe the moth is ecstatic with its life so free and flying, and knows nothing of time and its relativity in this world. Maybe the mountains stand resolute in pride and joy as they are the first to sip the rain, kiss daybreak and pay tribute to rivers.
Maybe the mountains are humbled and heartened that after so many years of being hidden, then carved, then finally revealed, they are prominent influences in the dreams and lives of countless beings that look to them for spiritual, artistic and physical sustenance.
The rivers, maybe they are overjoyed by the moments they stir energy in the eddies, and in the silt and sands of bottoms and banks, drawing to life whatever otherwise spends its time in slumber.
With all these questions, including so many more Mary certainly has conjured but are not mentioned in this poem of hers, there is an element of attributing human-centric perspectives and the poet’s values. I understand. And yet …
In re-reading this poem of moths and mountains and rivers, yes, I am brought to consideration of my own humanly biased filters. My own perspectives and values. And yes, Mary and I share a poetic reverence and care for nature, its being and stories, and often quiet wisdom that I appreciate and enjoy.
Yet I wonder if maybe we need to practice allowing for a bit more, that maybe our filters are misplaced at times, even if with heartful intentions, even if filled with wont for love and connection with this silent goddess that is so much grander than ourselves.
And yet another maybe: How can we?
The irony of my strange questions in consideration of strange questions (mine and Mary’s), is that I’m merely anthropomorphizing the moth and mountains and rivers in a different direction. That is not lost on me. My human-centric filter is attempting to compensate on behalf of my human-centric filter. Strange, indeed.
I do appreciate the way Mary ends this poem, for its call to curiosity. And for its hint at the true heart of my strange questions noted above:
“Strange questions, yet I have spent worthwhile time with them. And I suggest them to you also, that your spirit grow with curiosity, that your life be richer than it is, that you bow to the earth as you feel how it actually is, that we – so clever, and ambitious, and selfish, and unrestrained – are only one design of the moving, the vivacious many.”
As I often remind myself, being curious and asking questions is often more significant than having answers. Maybe human-centric voices are all we’re capable of composing on behalf of our musings for the moth, the mountains, the rivers.
So be it. It was only a question.