Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 30, 2013

Beans -a Mary Oliver poem

green beans

green beans (Photo credit: Chasqui (Luis Tamayo))

Gardens starting to put out some produce, are they? In honor of that, and of Mary’s recent passing  (September 10, 1935 – January 17, 2019) …

Beans  ,   by Mary Oliver

They’re not like peaches or squash.

Plumpness isn’t for them. They like

being lean, as if for the narrow

path. The beans themselves sit qui-

etly inside their green pods. In-

stinctively one picks with care,

never tearing down the fine vine,

never not noticing their crisp bod-

ies, or feeling their willingness for

the pot, for the fire.

I have thought sometimes that

something –I can’t name it —

watches as I walk the rows, accept-

ing the gift of their lives to assist


I know what you think: this is fool-

ishness. They’re only vegetables.

Even the blossoms with which they

begin are small and pale, hardly sig-

nificant. Our hands, or minds, our

feet hold more intelligence. With

this I have no quarrel.

But, what about virtue?

Published in Blue Iris, © 2004

… …

NOTE her line break choices! It is as if she chose to make this poem formally into neat, garden-like rows, with a couple of odd line breaks and splitting words needlessly [see “qui- etly” ] to subtly call attention to the form itself. See how no line goes too long, or too close to the “path” of the margin. It is garden as poem and poem as garden. Exquisite.

May I have such creative, sacrificial virtue, God? That “willingness for the pot, for the fire”? May I have such boldness as Mary, yet with the same gentle touch? Bring it to me… or is it up to me to plant my own seeds?

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