Thirst

from my archives ~ 11/3/2007

Yesterday I picked up the new Mary Oliver poetry collection – she calls it “Thirst”. The poems are darker and more filled with struggle than any of her previous books. The book is her response to losing her life partner, as well as her attempts to integrate her deep love of the natural world and all that it has taught her, with her desire to return to the catholic religion of her youth bringing along some of the wisdom of her life experiences.

I sit and weep when I read her poems here – the first time was sitting in the coffee shop at Barnes & Noble in Pittsfield – I was astounded and moved by her words – and didn’t care what people thought about this woman with the tears running down her cheeks, shaking her head and smiling. I read it yesterday when I brought it home, and again this evening – again, the tears flow and I am filled with such admiration for her grace, her passion, her rage, her acknowledgement that no matter how deeply you understand – there is still more that you cannot and must, at some point, simply accept and allow it to wash over and change you, sometimes utterly.

The book is filled with loss and love and the search for redemption. When I look up the word ‘redeem’, I see that not only does it have the religious connotation of saving from a state of sin and its consequences – which is not, I think, what she was searching for – but more to recover ownership, to set free, to restore the essence of oneself.

The loss of love – whether it be for a person or place, a career or a belief, whatever it is one loves – requires in the end a kind of redeeming of oneself – especially in the sense of recovering that essence of the sense of self. It can be easy to lose oneself in love – in a partner, a job, a mission. When the object has gone – the loss can be devastatingly doubled if one has given up oneself in the process of loving. Here is a short piece from the book:


The Uses of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.


I’ve had the grace of much loss in my own life. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to mature to the understanding of the gift of loss and sorrow. I’m grateful that I allowed myself to carry it with me until it taught me all that it could. Ultimately the lesson is not about how to handle loss and sorrow – ultimately it taught me about life and joy and the preciousness of the moment – it taught me to treasure the people in my life – to hold them lightly and lovingly – it taught me in a dream once that when you open yourself to the darkness it is truly filled only with light.

I’ve known my own thirst – and I’ve learned to call it desire – and I’ve learned to listen for its voice and to follow its calling. I have found that it is life calling out to life. I never would have taken the leap of faith to make this move into the west if I wasn’t willing to listen to – and to trust – the call of my desire.


I met a woman today at a yarn shop in Helena who wanted to know the story of my move from Massachusetts to Montana. She cried when I told her – it gave her a sense of hope that this longing she was feeling could be fulfilled. The thing I wanted to impress on her was that it wasn’t the move per se that was as important to me as the process before the move. It was getting clear about the essence of my desire in the moment – of how I wanted to feel – about me, about the world – of what I wanted to experience in my life.

I had a wonderful conversation with my friend Shira this afternoon and we talked about what I’ve said here before – I believe that I could have just as easily created a new life right there in the Berkshires by the time I was ready to move – because I had already moved so much within me. The physical move west to Montana became an adventure, an exploration of what I had already opened up in my mind and heart.

Today, my heart is so full. There is so much wonder for me in this new place, in the opportunities that are opening to me each day, in the new people I meet and the gracious welcome that I’ve received time after time. I hope that my thirst, my desire, is never completely slaked, but that it is constantly refreshed by the people and circumstances that are in my life.


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2 thoughts on “Thirst

  1. phyllismt says:

    Dear Emma,

    I just found this post…and realize that it is really about your realizing that “life is calling out to life” once again…

    So much more I could say as we prepare to leave on a week-long trip to LA, and I wrestle with whether I have really let my mother go… The trip is to connect with cousins that both Al and I have found through Ancestry.com…a new adventure in our lives that has led to much joy. And larger family in a world where both of us have been separated from our birth families. I was given a box of darkness…and didn’t know for a long time that it was a box of Light…

    Sending much Qi as you once again heed the call of Life calling out to Life…

    Loving you, my friend 💝 Phyllis

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    • Emma Deva says:

      Thank you for sharing this beautiful story – we come around again and again to our challenges from a wider perspective each time.

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