In Gratitude for Mary Oliver’s “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)”

by Brooke Floyd  ·  April 19, 2018

In her poem “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145),” first published in Five Points, Volume 10, numbers 1 & 2, Mary Oliver gives a divine example of a prayer warrior in a chaotic world searching for God along the beachside. As readers, we are captivated by the indiscernible beauty and grace that flows delicately through this intricate exploration of God. This poem has meant more to me than I can ever describe. You see, I have been in a battle with my own mental health that has only seemed to escalate over the past two months. In my time of distress, I asked Dr. Megan Sexton (one of the most kind, patient, and loving professors on this earth) to aid me in choosing a poem that concerned spirituality. She knew exactly the poem for me and sent it right over, I was immediately smitten. The poem consists of eight segments, each more beautiful than the last. Below I have included the second stanza, this one holding very personal significance to me:

Now the afternoon wind
all frill and no apparent purpose
takes her cloud-shaped
hand and touches every one of the
waves so that rapidly
they stir the wings of the eiders they blur

the boats on their moorings; not even the rocks
black and blunt interrupt the waves on their
way to the shore and one last swimmer (is it you?) rides
their salty infoldings and outfoldings until,
peaked, their blue sides heaving, they pause; and God
whistles them back; and you glide safely to shore.

After reading the entire poem countless times (both aloud to others and to myself) along the drive on a recent Bachelorette trip to the shore, I  became eager to hit the beach. I found myself being jolted awake the next morning with the ocean seemingly calling me to it. The waves were strong and unforgiving and with each crash, thanks to Mary, I was able to appreciate God more and more. I found myself that morning kneeling in the rising tide to pray. Bowed over and feeling the cold morning ocean rise and fall away against my skin I meditated (as prescribed) and was overcome with a sense of calm longing to be one with the water.

I had always identified the ocean with God’s hands, but the way in which Mary’s poem depicts God as being in all things by the sea: the fish, the water, the swimmer, the “infoldings and outfoldings,” helps us find a new means of worship and appreciation for all the beauty that encompasses us wanderers.

So thank you, Mary, for being a bright light for me in my time of need; I have read your poem aloud to all who will hear it and will continue to do so and will forever seek out your work in the years to come. Also, thank you, Megan, for guiding me to this poem and all that you have done to assist me through this rough patch in my life. You have inspired my belief in the school system (something I was beginning to lose). You are my angel.

Painting by my grandmother.