After Reading Lucretius,
I Go to the Pond
by: Mary Oliver
The slippery green frog
that went to his death
in the heron's pink throat
was my small brother,
and the heron
with the white plumes
like a crown on his head
who is washing now his great sword-beak
in the shining pond
is my tall thin brother.
My heart dresses in black
So, I suppose to understand this poem, you have to have a small understanding of Lucretius.
Not much is known about Lucretius' life, aside from a letter penned by Cicero. Lucretius wrote one work--De rerum natura, which is sometimes translated as On the Nature of Things. Basically, it is, among other things, a poem about physics. It seems as though Lucretius got himself into a little hot water because he espoused that the universe wasn't ruled and operated by omnipotent deities. Rather, he thought that nature was a matter of fortuna. Chance.
And that is what Mary Oliver is wrestling with before she strolls down to the pond--the vicissitudes of the universe. The slippery, green frog devoured by the white-crowned heron. Both creatures her brothers doing what is completely natural to them. The frog is swimming in the mud and clay. The heron is filling its hungry belly.
I am a person who always looks for meaning in what goes on around me. If I were Mary Oliver, I would probably be assigning some sort of deep symbolism to that tiny frog becoming a heron snack. Perhaps it's about the poor being devoured by the rich and powerful. Or tiny Ukraine being shredded by Putin's Russian military. Or a child being bullied on a school playground.
No, no, Mary says. It's not any of that. It's just the way of the world. Survival of the fittest. The frog is just a frog doing frog things. The heron is just a heron doing heron things. That's it. Life begets death begets life.
I spent some time writing with a poet friend early this morning. Something we try to do every week, when life allows. During the course of our writing time, we always talk about the chaotic nature of our lives--old and new challenges, attainable and unattainable dreams. She is like me in a lot of ways, trying to keep her family functioning, working crazy hours, and, in between all that, cobbling together time to write poetry.
I'm not going to start comparing my friend and me to the frog and the heron. I'm just saying that, before we dove into writing about the pond this morning, we spent some time admiring its water and weeds. And it was grounding. I was reminded that it's natural to be sad sometimes. To worry about your kids and friends. At any one point in our lives, we can be simultaneously overwhelmed and joyful and worried and content. That is my de rerum natura. On the nature of things.
So, if you haven't done it for a while, take a walk down to the pond, whatever the pond is for you. Your neighborhood. A trail in the woods. The playground down the street. Big Boy or McDonald's. An honest-to-God pond. Just be there. Observe. Take some time just to recognize that we're all connected. All brothers and sisters in the pond. Be happy. Be sad. Be happysad. Be sadhappy. Be whatever your heart wants you to be.
And now Saint Marty's heart will put on a Bigfoot shirt and dance. Because that's his nature.
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