A friend turned me on to the four-book series of poetry collected by Roger Housden. Seems the first volume, Ten Poems to Change Your Life came out in the middle of 2001, with the others, Ten Poems to Open Your Heart and Ten Poems to Set You Free, following close behind. The final volume, Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime, was published in 2003. I liked the concept behind them: Housden, a Buddhist-influenced, spiritual seeker, selecting poetry that has spoken to him over his life, helped him through tumultuous times, and telling us, his readers, in short essays what he responds to in the works and why.
How did I miss these books when they came out? Too preoccupied with my daily, driven agenda? Too focused on finding my own path to inspiration, too busy spinning my own wheels? These volumes have arrived in my life at the exact right time; I always pay extra attention when such a confluence occurs. And then to have the first poem in the first book be Mary Oliver’s The Journey, a poem I found and used as part of the women’s retreat I went to over on the Oregon coast in November 2003. I remember reading it aloud as my final offering to the group, all women I’d never met before except the facilitator. The weekend had been about finding our voices, and Oliver’s incantatory words, well, they summed up so much about the state of my changing life at the time:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice–
And here, in this slim volume, with a small white cream pitcher on the cover it appears again. Since finding this poem again, reading Housden’s thoughts, I can’t get another Mary Oliver line out of my head, one I took to the solstice ritual at Peg Mayo’’ house five or six years back:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
That question fills the echo chamber that is, of late, my fearful, edgy heart. Fifty years old. Time passing. No time to wait and no time but the present. Questions looming, daily, persistent: now that I’ve got what I said I wanted, is it enough? what feels off? can I make peace with it? can I rally the strength of character I used to think I had, the expansive, optimistic, idealistic vision and dare to step into the remaining time that is mine, my wild and precious life? Do I have the courage, the resolve, the energy to step bravely into the necessary honesty, the solitary power that is my journey? To recognize, at long last, my own voice? To write even when I’m unsure of who will hear my words?
…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.
The public domain image above is an 1835 painting by Julius von Leypold, “Wanderer in the Storm.”