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Mary Oliver Reads Her Poem “I Happened to be Standing”

The poems of Mary Oliver are prayers that anyone can pray. They are spacious and simple, expansive and ordinary. They don’t require us to believe in anything in particular, but they do ask us to pay attention to that fleeting and particular space of a moment.

When asked about the spiritual life of her childhood, Mary Oliver told Krista Tippett:

“Well I would define it now very differently from when I was a child. I was sent to Sunday School, as many kids are. And then I had trouble with the Resurrection. So I would not join the church. But I was still probably more interested than many of the kids who did enter into the church. It’s been one of the most important interests of my life. And continues to be.

And it doesn’t have to be Christianity, or Islam. I’m very much taken with the poet Rumi. Who is a Muslim, a Sufi poet. I read him every day. I have no answers, but I have some suggestions. I know that a life is much richer with a spiritual part to it.

Oliver has said that when she talks about prayer she’s thinking of that oft-quoted line of Rumi’s: “There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

Her poem “I Happened to Be Standing” embodies that line. And it’s something quite special to hear it in the poet’s own voice.

I Happened to Be Standing

Text is not available for this poem due to rights restrictions.

This poem was originally read in the On Being episode “Listening To the World.

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