It’s that wonderful moment in the garden when everything is possible again. The damp chilly spring meant a slow start to the growing season.  But now the freshly minted grass, dew-laden in the morning, is thick and spongy as a bathroom rug. Even the finicky continus shrubs and rugosa roses are showing signs of life— their rows of hard red bumps erupting into leaf overnight.   The great classical orchestra of perennials is assembling, each starting to keep time to an inner music that a gardener, looking out across the greening world, can almost hear. The American nature poet Mary Oliver (who died this past January at the age of 83 and who lived for a time at Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Steepletop just over the mountain from us) had a remarkable ear for the harmonies of plants and animals. Here’s a poem of Oliver’s about peonies that seems to encompass, as does so much of her work, all of life and death.


by Mary Oliver

This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away

to their dark, underground cities —
and all day
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
and rise,
their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and softly,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

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10 Responses to Peonies

  1. Beverly Mills Gyllenhaal says:

    So beautiful— your writing, hers, the photos and makes me want to get to the Berkshires ASAP!

  2. Beata M Newman Scarpulla says:

    Dear Liza,

    The whole piece is just lovely. What a pleasure.


  3. AndersG says:

    I love the image of the orchestra getting ready to play. That tuning note they do that slowly winds up and goes silent before the real thing. I can almost hear it from here.

  4. Theda says:

    A beautiful pool of sparkling perspective here…..thank you so much.

  5. Annette Shear says:

    Dear Liza:
    Another lovely experience..thank you
    I carried Peonies at my high school graduation;
    my memory of little ants crawling in and out of the flowers hasn’t deterred my enjoying them to this day!

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