In the Country of the Wild-Haired Corn


I don’t know
if the sunflowers
are angels always,
but surely sometimes.
Who, even in heaven,
wouldn’t want to wear,
for awhile,
such a seed-face
and brave spine —
a coat of leaves
with so many pockets —
and who wouldn’t want
to stand for a summer day
in the hot fields,
in the lonely country
of the wild-haired corn?
This much I know —
When I see the bright
stars of their faces
when I’m strolling nearby,
I grow soft in my speech,
and soft in my thoughts,
and I remember how everything will be everything else,
by and by.
                    “By the Wild-Haired Corn” ~ Mary Oliver


Comments always are welcome.

57 thoughts on “In the Country of the Wild-Haired Corn

  1. Can you imagine what a pleasure it would have been to have known Mary Oliver, to have shared a lunch with her, just to have listened to her? What a legacy she has left us. If only I had a fraction of her elegance and sparkling use of language…….When I see the perfect way she assembles words it makes me want to give up!

    1. Comparisons can do us all in, David. I fight that temptation to give up on photography from time to time: but of course we don’t, nor should we. As for Oliver, her poetry seems to me to contain good doses of three qualities that increase the appeal of her words: kindness, modesty, and mischievousness. I especially like this:

      Let me keep my distance, always, from those
      who think they have the answers.

      Let me keep company always with those who say
      “Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
      and bow their heads.

      1. And she was right, Linda. I always mentally shut down when someone starts a conversation by saying, “I don’t care what anyone says.”

    1. The wire’s one of several, meant to keep people out of a prairie. Clearly, it wasn’t able to keep the sunflower from making its way out of the prairie and into the ditch.

    1. There’s nothing more fun than combining a nice bit of nature with the words of one of our finest nature poets. I’m glad you enjoyed it, GP — and thanks for the kind words.

  2. That’s an apt and novel combination: seed-face. The poem’s final thought is akin to Hindu belief, at least for living beings.

    You won’t be surprised to hear that just yesterday I photographed a few sunflower heads whose rays were in the bedraggled-and-getting-ready-to-fall-off stage.

    1. Oliver does have a knack for looking at nature and seeing it in ways that are sometimes compelling, sometimes amusing, and always personal. As an inveterate anthropomorphizer, that personal approach is one aspect of her work I really enjoy: e.g., ‘seed-face.’

      Time’s passing, for sure. Even a couple of weeks ago I saw Illinois bundleflower seed pods forming, as well as those of the occasional bluebell and milkweed. There’s goldenrod showing up, too. It seems ‘too early,’ but the state of suspended animation everyone’s experienced to one degree or another makes judging what ‘should’ be happening a little difficult.

  3. Outdoors heals the most troubled.
    Fortunate are those that see and understand.
    Didn’t know this poem – the imagery/advice is just what is needed these days.
    Perfect way to start the day
    (wild haired corn – gotta love that )

    1. Nature’s good for us all — but we’ve known that since we were lucky enough to be kids who got to run free. Every now and then I remember John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “The Barefoot Boy.” It works for girls, too:

      Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
      Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
      Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
      Knowledge never learned of schools,
      Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
      Of the wild-flower’s time and place…

      I think Whittier and Oliver would have enjoyed one another’s company immensely.

        1. I wondered if it might not be part of your tradition; in fact, I suspected it would be. We are the blessed ones: not only for the bare feet and freedom, but also for our parents, who taught us so much more than a classroom ever could.

  4. Lovely poem for this morning —“..the bright stars of their faces.” That’s the best description!

    Never have I ever seen an electric (telephone, whatever) wire used so artfully. Congratulations on that!

    1. It’s a fence wire. Here’s a wider view of the fence, and some of the sunflower’s friends. As long as I can keep the chiggers at bay, isolating flowers like this one is great fun! I’m glad you like it.

        1. I didn’t finish. It’s always a mistake for me to post using my phone, but especially after a take-out dinner which was so good and welcomed that I can’t think straight. I just assumed you were aiming for the sunflower and sky and the wire happened to be in the way. Still, I really like the composition!

          1. No, I made a point of combining the wire and the flower. I liked the geometry of it, and the way the straight wire contrasted with the curvy stem. Straight often equals human, while curves are more likely in nature. You really can see it in things like aerial views of Louisiana and Texas. The canals are straight, while the bayous curve and wind.

          2. Actually, the fence was to be a focal point, and the post had a completely different title, and there was no poem involved. Then, things happened. Now, the post I intended will show up later, with different photos.

    1. She really has a voice, doesn’t she? It’s almost always unmistakable, especially when nature’s her subject. I was delighted to find a ditch filled with sunflowers, and the pairing with her poem seemed perfect.

    1. I don’t know if I can say ‘always’ — but I have yet to find an example of her missing the mark. That’s part of what makes exploring her work so wonderful; there’s always something new and thought-provoking to discover.

  5. Wonderful poem from Mary Oliver, and so fitting for the photo. I also love the additional lines from Oliver in your reply to David – I’m going to add that to my file of favorite quotes. It may be why I love photography. A great photograph just says “Look!” There’s no need for anything else.

    Also hitching a ride on David’s response, isn’t it always a puzzle why people who say “I don’t care what anyone says” think we should care what they say?

    1. Those lines I quoted second are an example of something else I like about Oliver. In a time when experiences of grace seem elusive, she recognizes them for what they are, and is capable of communicating the experience. Wendell Berry has the same ability, but he’s a bit more curmudgeonly about it. As for looking, she nails it with this:

      Instructions for living a life:

      Pay attention.
      Be astonished.
      Tell about it.

  6. This is a nice pairing of Mary Oliver and Linda Leinen. I like that you caught a flower as it is beginning to stretch out its petals much as we might do at the start of a new day. This one looks very much like one of our Black-eyed Susans opening to the sun.

    1. And it was pretty close to the beginning of a new day — 6:30 or so. The neighborhood was up and about, even so. One sunflower was hosting three snails and a pair of mating lady beetles, though most of the pollinators hadn’t shown up for work yet.

  7. An interesting poem about one of my favorite flowers- not just for eating but also the beauty of the bright eyed face. Mary Oliver surely could put a spin on some of her subjects.

    1. Out of curiosity, I did a search for Oliver poems that mentioned sunflowers. I’m sure I didn’t surface them all, but there were quite a few, and each of them was distinct — just like the flowers themselves. We don’t often notice the differences among flowers, but that’s due to our inattention as much as anything, and that’s a point that she likes to make: pay attention.

  8. I’m in tune with Steve G. The line “I grow soft” has such a poignant resonance with the feeling of being able to behold and appreciate what might, to some casual observers, be just another flower or a cloud or a small frame of extraordinary happenstance within the larger panorama, but to the alert can speak with sudden eloquence. Sorry, I gush. I like your vision here, Linda!

    1. Oliver has a way with words, but she has a unique way of seeing, as well. Put the two together, and the world comes alive. I especially like that she’s willing to take on all of nature, not just the ‘pretty’ aspects of it. She’s never sugary or sentimental about what’s going on out there, and that’s appealing to me, too.

  9. “The wild-haired corn” — that marvelous image is going to rattle around in my brain all afternoon. The wild-haired corn, that plays the telephone game — whispers from ear to ear in the breeze. This is why we need poets. We were so lucky to have had her while we did.

    1. Isn’t that a great image? It certainly evokes the frowsiness of fully-tasseled corn. As for whispers, did you know that you can hear corn grow? It’s true. I’ve heard it in Iowa fields, and today, there are scientists recording it. The convergence of science and art can be a wonderful thing.

  10. Thanks for the Mary Oliver introduction! I don’t read poetry enough, but I very much enjoy discovering selected offerings from other bloggers when they accompany beautiful or interesting images.

    1. If you search either of my blogs using ‘Mary Oliver,’ you’ll find others of her poems that I enjoy. She’s one of my favorites: so much so that I actually buy her books, rather than counting on the digital world to remain intact!

    1. As so many of us like to say, you never can go wrong with Mary Oliver; her appreciation and understanding of nature is unrivaled — at least, for me. We’re a little short on corn around here, but sunflowers abound, and this one reminded me of the poem.

    1. No blue sky here today — the Saharan dust has rolled in, and everything is a strange gray. It’s not just gray, it looks ‘thick.’ How nice to have this pretty sky and flower, and the lovely poem, to help us wait through the gloom!

  11. I don’t know how you did it but for some weird reason, the flower juxtaposed with the twisted wire look good. I guess in this instance it looks geometric and surreal. I normally don’t like seeing ‘human-made’ things with natural ones.

    What a nice poem. It’s her affinity with nature themes that made her interesting.

    1. I don’t mind signs of people in photos occasionally, and this one pleased me. Thinking about it, I decided it’s the balance that I like: half nature and half human, so to speak. More flowers or all three fence wires would have thrown everything off.

      It’s the same kind of understated-ness that I like in Oliver’s poetry. She’s so deeply grounded in so much — the natural world, philosophy, the world of the spirit — but she never lectures. She just suggests, and does so with uncommonly well-chosen words.

    1. I don’t want to be the “Well, actually…” person, but actually — that Saharan dust has supplanted our blue skies. I’ll be glad when these skies return!

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