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Mary Oliver’s Cancer Poem

“The end of life has its own nature also worth our attention.”
—Mary Oliver

About an hour in to our interview with Mary Oliver, the poet discusses what she calls “the cancer visit.” In 2012 she was diagnosed with lung cancer and said that death had “left his calling card.” She was treated and was given “a clean bill of health.”

In her collection Blue Horses, “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” is a four-part poem that recalls the shadowy underworld of loss and survival. And yet, grief is coupled with a hopefulness. The poem is petitionary, asking of us to make what we can of the time we have left.

The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac

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

“The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” from Blue Horses by Mary Oliver, published by The Penguin Press, New York, Copyright © 2014 by Mary Oliver.

This poem was originally read in the On Being episode, “Listening to the World.”


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