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White Peony, Jan La Roche Photography

What is it about the fragile, fleeting, and flagrant beauty of flowers that can so break a heart?

I wrote about this once in a photo-essay called Riffing on Roses. And then just this week I found this new-to-me poem by Mary Oliver, Peonies, which broke my heart again.

The poem speaks to the flagrant beauty of flowers that gives itself away, all that it is, so freely and readily to all that comes its way: the ants, the breeze, the sun’s soft buttery fingers, the poet’s breaking heart.

“Beauty the brave, the exemplary,” indeed.

I wish we all could live so bravely, so carelessly, giving all that we are to all there is. I wish we all, like those ants, craving such sweetness and finding it, would bore deep within that sap. We must cherish and adore all we are, all we have, all that is, while it’s still here to have.


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?

 Mary Oliver,  New And Selected Poems. (Beacon Press; Reprint edition November 19, 2013)

Thank you to The Vale of Soul-Making where I found this poem.