Poems of Transformation: The Journey, by Mary Oliver

The JourneyThe Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

–Mary Oliver

The Journey is a poem of transformation. It speaks of the moment when you dare. When you dare to listen to your own truth and set sail into a new life.

It is a poem in which you might catch a reflection of your own story. It invites you to find yourself and your own experience at its centre–the experience of a kind of knowing. A knowing that may lie dormant perhaps for many years, then one day suddenly bursts into life. A knowing that reveals the true journey of your life.

Perhaps this all sounds a bit too dramatic—but this poem can speak to anyone, wherever you are on your journey. Yet it is not quite enough merely to know. You have to take that first step in the dark, you have to begin though you are uncertain and filled with doubt. The mystic-poet Rumi said,

Start walking, start walking towards Shams,
Your legs will get heavy and tired.
Then comes the moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown lifting.

It can take a lifetime to prepare for the moment when this kind of knowing comes. A lifetime of being softened, broken down, and cooked in grief or mourning, while not essential, tends to pave the way into a new life for many. A new life requires a death of some kind, a letting go. What you let go of is a way of being in the world that you have outgrown.

And yet there are no guarantees. You cannot know where the road will take you. Nevertheless embarking upon the ‘road less travelled’ is an essential human experience. On some deep level every human heart yearns to follow its archetypal path.

“The Journey” speaks to the birth of a new self, a deeper identity that was in you all along. This new self does not flee from the world, but walks deeply into it. You cannot know where its voice will lead you. But you alone can respond to its call.