Tuesday, January 17, 2023

January 17: "Loneliness," Ugly Duckling, Inner Critic

Mary Oliver knows what it means to be alone . . . 


by:  Mary Oliver

I too have known loneliness.
I too have known what it is to feel
     rejected, and suddenly
not at all beautiful.
Oh, mother earth,
     your comfort is great, your arms never withhold.
It has saved my life to know this.
Your rivers flowing, your roses opening in the morning.
Oh, motions of tenderness!

Everyone has known loneliness.  That feeling of being abandoned or shunned or misjudged or out-of -place.  Call it ugly duckling syndrome, if you want.  You can't survive middle school without experiencing these emotions.  I grew up in a household with eight siblings and had a large, extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Family reunions of any sort were like The Brady Bunch, The Patridge Family, and The Godfather combined.  Yet, I still remember moments of utter loneliness.

Because loneliness does not really depend upon physical isolation.  I think it's more psychological or spiritual.  I have always been kind of an oddball in my family.  I come from a blue collar background.  My paternal grandfather was a farmer and plumber.  My dad, three brothers, and one sister were/are all licensed master plumbers.  You might say that shit runs through my veins.  When I was in high school, my dad made me go on service calls during summer vacation, and I hated every second of it.  One of the loneliest moments of my life was when my dad registered me as an apprentice plumber.  I felt . . . trapped.  

Of course, I'm not a plumber.  In my case, the ugly duckling grew up to be a poet swan.  But I still sometimes feel, as Oliver says, "not at all beautiful."  I never feel comfortable in my own skin.  I have a relentless inner critic.  I'm too fat.  Too old.  I'm a terrible musician.  My poetry is sentimental or derivative.  I can't teach my way out of a paper bag.  I'm a horrible husband and father and friend.  

Nobody needs to reject me.  I reject myself on a daily basis.

Of course, in my rational mind, I know that this loneliness has no basis in reality.  But loneliness isn't rational.  It's an open wound.  A raw nerve.  It's a high school freshman who would rather be reading Walt Whitman than unclogging a sewer with his dad.  

Today's poem is a reminder that the world is an embracing place.  That there's no such thing as an ugly duckling.  Everything has a place and belongs.  This tenderness, Oliver says, has saved her life.  And it has saved my life, too.  On many a dark night.  

The rivers flow.  Roses open in morning sunlight.  For you.  For Saint Marty.  Because we are beautiful.  Not alone.


  1. Yes!!! You are loved by many and your poetry is beautiful!

  2. Honest. True. Important Marty. G