Amanda Palmer Reads “When I Am Among the Trees” by Mary Oliver
By Maria Popova
“Aside from the appearance of a tree by day or night, is it not kin of the human family with its roots in the earth and its arms stretching toward the sky as if to seek and to know the great mystery?” the artist Art Young wondered in the 1920s in the brief preface to his stunning Rorschach silhouettes of trees at night. Artists, poets, and philosophers have long turned to trees as a clarifying and consolatory force for our human struggles, from William Blake’s most beautiful metaphor to Walt Whitman’s reverence for their wisdom to Martin Buber’s arboreal existentialism.
Still, I have encountered no lovelier celebration of trees than the one Mary Oliver (September 10, 1935–January 17, 2019) offers in her poem “When I Am Among the Trees,” originally published in 2006, later included in her farewell gift to the world, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (public library), and read here by tree-lover, poetry-lover, and my dear friend Amanda Palmer:
WHEN I AM AMONG THE TREES
by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
Complement with the fascinating science of what trees feel and how they communicate, the story of Wangari Maathai’s inspiring movement of planting trees as a form of resistance and empowerment, which made her the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and another stunning tree poem by another of the rare seer-poets of our time — “Optimism” by Jane Hirshfield — then revisit Mary Oliver on how books saved her life, the two building blocks of creativity, how to live with maximal aliveness, her advice on writing, and her moving elegy for her soul mate.
For more of Amanda’s generous indulgences of my poetical demands, hear her readings of “The Hubble Photographs” by Adrienne Rich, “Questionnaire” by Wendell Berry, “Having It Out With Melancholy” by Jane Kenyon, “Humanity i love you” by E.E. Cummings, “Possibilities” by Wisława Szymborska, and “The Mushroom Hunters” by Neil Gaiman.
Amanda’s work, like my own, is made possible by patronage — join me in supporting her music so that she may go on donating her voice and goodwill to trees and poems and kindnesses to friends.
Published September 23, 2019