My dear daughter-in-law gave me a copy of this book as a Christmas present last year.

Mary Oliver, Devotions

Mary Oliver, Devotions

I’ve been chewing it slowly, lectio divina-style.

Right now, the summer poems are calling to me.

You probably know the most famous one, “The Summer Day.”

Here’s another, called “While I Am Writing a Poem to Celebrate Summer, the Meadowlark Begins to Sing.”

The first line of this poem grabbed me:

“Sixty-seven years, O Lord, to Look at the Clouds,”

Today's clouds. Never the same as yesterday's.

Today’s clouds. Never the same as yesterday’s.


Mary Oliver wrote those words years ago.

As I read them, however, I am sixty-nine and counting fast.

This gratitude for the new season has sneaked up on me.

Every time the seasons turn, I now say something similar to myself that boils down to

“Thank you, O Lord, for the clouds, . . . the brilliant leaves, . . . the lazy snow flakes, . . . and this tumult of redbud glory.”

Recently, inspired by Mary Oliver,

I posted this haiku poem on Facebook:

Basking in birdsong
I see no mountains ahead
They are hiding well

June 23, 2018, misty morning

June 23, 2018, misty morning looking toward the Alleghenies

Why haiku?

I am influenced by my friend and mentor John Paul Lederach

who has inspired me to see haiku in a new way.

You can listen to his inspiring dharma talk about haiku and peacebuilding here.

Below I have paraphrased some of his thoughts in the talk.

1. You need a haiku attitude.

Prepare yourself to be touched by beauty.

Beauty helps us re-humanize ourselves and others.

Haikuists simply take time to notice.

Immediate, concrete and transcendent.

We are a global human family, made in the likeness of God.

This includes those who wish you harm.

The soul of building peace is to see beauty in the enemy.

2. A better way to deal with complexity.

A great haiku will put you in touch with complexity

but through it see simplicity —

the deep essence of the human experience.

In John Paul’s words:

“Don’t ask the mountain

to move. Just take a pebble

each time you visit.”

Find a way to essence.

3. Presence. Moving beyond the head.

Be sincere.

A story from poet Mark Nepo. Long ago in Italy, sellers of marble, cheaters, used wax to hide defects.

Honest sellers sold marble

without wax.  That’s what the word means. Sin cere, without wax.

Haiku requires you to be sincere: to see, notice, capture fullness of complexity.

People often speak unconsciously in haiku when they speak from the heart.

I’ve decided, now that I am home again in the Shenandoah Valley,

to listen for haiku every day.

That means listening for beauty, for simplicity beyond complexity, and for sincere presence.

Haiku #2

Scraps in the bucket

whisper the dark secret

“All life is compost.”


Compost pile next to my neighbor's garden.

Compost pile next to my neighbor’s garden.

Do you have a favorite haiku? A favorite Mary Oliver poem? Please share!

Shirley Showalter


  1. Laurie Buchanan on June 27, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    Shirley — I really(!) enjoyed your paraphrase of item #2. It resonates strongly with me.

    I’m a huge fan of Mary Oliver. She hasn’t written a poem that I don’t like. Len and I got to see her in person at a reading in Chicago. We had seats in the center of the second row. Her reading is a memorable highlight in my life that I cherish.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 27, 2018 at 8:01 pm

      Lucky you, Laurie. I have heard her read her own work and be interviewed online, but I can imagine being in her presence would be a whole new level of wonderful. And of course you resonated with simplicity on the other side of complexity. That’s one of your mantras — and not just words, but actions too.

  2. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on June 27, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    Haiku about part of my summer day:

    Lie back on sun-warmed earth
    On chest is Cat
    Look through gaps in straw hat

    Thank you for sharing the beauty. Blessings on your milestone birthday!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 27, 2018 at 8:03 pm

      Love this one, Dolores. I can just see you and Cat. Both of you with a little mischief up your sleeves. And both of you noticing everything through that gap in the hat.

      Thanks for the blessings. Back at you!

  3. June Alspaugh on June 27, 2018 at 5:07 pm

    ‘Carry me back to ol’ Virginia, No place do I love more sincerely’ Thank you for the introduction to Mary Oliver. I will have to do some looking in the library, I do so enjoy reading poetry.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 27, 2018 at 8:11 pm

      I am honored if this post takes you to Mary Oliver, June. The book above is a collection from all of her previous books and is highly recommended.

      And I had forgotten that old Stephen Foster song, (“Carry Me Back. . .”). Stuart and I had an adventure in the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh looking for Stephen Foster’s grave. I was going to blog about it, but never got around to it. It is just a humble grave among many others.

  4. LInda Gartz on June 27, 2018 at 5:10 pm

    Dear Shirley,
    These haikus are to be treasured and meditated upon. We are all so busy these days (I am busier than I’ve been in years), it’s hard to pause, reflect, turn inward. Thank you for these beautiful reminders.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 27, 2018 at 8:13 pm

      Linda, I am amazed that you had a minute to write these words. I’m so happy for you that your book Redlined is in print and being so well received. I hope you get a few pauses in your summer, but there is also a time to go full force, and, for you, that time is now.

  5. Hannah on June 27, 2018 at 7:10 pm

    I needed this today – and the combination of Oliver, Lederach AND Showalter was just the thing! Thank you.

  6. Dwight L. Roth on June 27, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    Very interesting!

  7. Tina Barbour on June 27, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    Welcome back to Virginia, Shirley. There is beauty all around, and I love how haiku, including yours, pulls out the pieces of beauty that we might otherwise miss. I have been experimenting with poetic forms. My middle grade novel is written in verse, mostly using nonets, a nine-line poem using a certain number of syllables per line (9 down to 1). The ebb and flow of the lines fit my 11-year-old character and her anxious thoughts. Writing poetry—and reading it—slows me down in a good way.

    Mary Oliver is my favorite poet ever. “Wild Geese” and “The Journey” are especially meaningful. And one called “Blue Azures,” I believe. I went to a reading she gave years ago when she was writer-in-residence at Sweet Briar College. It remains a treasured memory. I shook her hand afterwards and babbled something about how much her poetry meant to me. She had such a peace and fagility about her.

    • Tina Barbour on June 27, 2018 at 8:57 pm

      It’s “Spring Azures” 🙂

  8. Marian Beaman on June 27, 2018 at 9:45 pm

    Your cloud photos reminded me of Psalm 36:5 “Your mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.”

    One year I helped 4th graders write haiku. I’ve written some myself. They (the haiku form and 4th graders) are simple and pure. Yours are too!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 28, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks for both the verse and the story, Marian. And the words simple and pure. I aspire to them.

  9. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on June 28, 2018 at 12:28 am

    Oh, I do love that Haiku about the compost, Shirley! That is brilliant! I love to compose Haikus when I’m walking. Recently, after reading a post from April Yamasaki about rewriting the 23 Psalm by choosing a letter of the alphabet. I tried writing It using the letter A, and I found that quite stimulating and personally rewarding as I wrestled with the words.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 28, 2018 at 3:22 pm

      Thank you, Elfieda, for commenting on the compost. I wasn’t sure I wanted to include it, and I knew that it wouldn’t attract as many people as the puffy clouds, so it is good to know that at least one person liked it. 🙂 April has wonderful contemplative ideas. Glad you are benefitting from her suggestions also.

      • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on June 28, 2018 at 3:28 pm

        I can be “killed by delight” with compost too.

  10. Linda Hoye on June 28, 2018 at 9:58 am

    My favourite words of Mary Oliver’s (at the moment) are these:

    I see or hear
    that more or less

    kills me
    with delight . . .”

    I have not written Haiku since school days but I find these you share here evoke a sense of peace and being present. Perhaps I need to try again.

    • Shirley Showalter on June 28, 2018 at 3:36 pm

      Thanks for these great words, Linda. They made me think right away of granddaughter Lydia. She never stints on delight.

      Hope you come back with some haiku.


  11. Barbara McDowell Whitt on June 28, 2018 at 10:47 am

    Shirley, welcome back to Virginia. I know you and Stuart are missing Lydia Ann and her parents very much. And do enjoy your forthcoming 70th birthday.

    I will cherish these words from your post:
    “Thank you, O Lord, for the clouds….the brilliant leaves….the lazy snowflakes….and this tumult of redbud glory.”
    Are they your own words?

    A haiku search took me to the Spring 2018 winning haiku entries published by John Kelly in his daily Washington Post column, John Kelly’s Washington:

    My favorite among the published entries is this one:

    Delicate white flecks
    Drift to the basin. Blossoms?
    No, just spring snowfall

    • Shirley Showalter on June 28, 2018 at 4:35 pm

      Barbara, thanks for the warm welcome and for keeping the light on for us.

      Yes, those were my own words about the seasons.

      I like the haiku you chose also. A basin full of snowfall might feel good right now!

  12. Sarah Buller Fenton on June 28, 2018 at 4:54 pm

    How wonderful that you live in the Shenandoah Valley with these beautiful views. We so enjoy the vistas when we visit our 2 grandsons (and their parents), not often enough.

    • Shirley Showalter on July 2, 2018 at 11:27 am

      Hi Sarah. Welcome to this space. I hope you are inspired to add an extra trip to “the valley” this summer. The heat is here, but the green is still lush. Probably won’t last long. Enjoy the grandsons too. Oh yes, and their parents. 🙂

  13. Elaine Mansfield on July 1, 2018 at 12:51 pm

    Beautiful, Shirley. Exquisite soul medicine, including the Mary Oliver poems. Yes, to the transformation of life’s scraps into fertile soil. Besides the garden, my compost heap feeds birds and small mammals, slugs and bugs. Everything transforming into new life. I survive grief, caregiving, and Meniere’s disease by finding moments of beauty and love every day. This morning, I peeked in the bluebird nesting box and found one of the four eggs hatched. A pink naked body with the shell already removed by the tending parents. The others will likely crack through their shells today. Since I can’t send my beautiful photo (I’ll post it Monday on my FB author page), I’ll say:

    In early light, Mama Bluebird leaves her nesting box. Papa guards from the barn roof. I quietly turn the box door latch to peek at four perfect blue eggs laid two weeks ago. Instead, I find three eggs and one pink body so fragile, so small, with a wide-open mouth that says, “Give me Life.”

  14. Shirley Showalter on July 2, 2018 at 9:41 am

    What lovely imagery, Elaine. Your writing is haiku-like often, especially when you speak of nature and of your close, loving observation of the world around you. You have found a place that eases suffering. It’s called the beauty all around you. Thank you for being my teacher.

  15. Joan on July 3, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    Welcome back, Shirley. I love writing haiku. I think it’s very refreshing. And I love Mary Oliver. Hope to see you soon.

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