are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
Nobody could count all of them—
the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided—
and that one wears an orange blight—
and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away—
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.
“The Pond” ~ Mary Oliver
55 thoughts on “Pond Lights”
I love your water lily shots (and how you caught the bee in mid-air). The words of Mary Oliver are a perfect match, though as they rightfully point out, “But what in this world is perfect?”
Since ‘perfection’ is a human construct, it’s always going to be hard to shove reality into that box. Sometimes people use ‘perfect’ as a synonym for ‘whole,’ but that rarely applies in nature. I bought some of the year’s first peaches at the farmers’ market today. They were imperfect in a multitude of ways: bruised here, unripened there. But the taste? Perfect.
The lilies and the words of Mary Oliver are both of a perfection few of us will ever come close to.
There’s a time and a place to apply what I call The Rule of Good Enough. I’ve been trying to achieve a perfect coat of varnish for thirty years or so. I haven’t managed it yet, but there’s always tomorrow.
There’s ever a conflict between the real and the ideal. Maybe a sage can reconcile them.
Your comment reminded me that Annie Dillard recognized that conflict, and used an interesting word to describe it: ‘gap.’ She talks about it in one of my favorite passages:
“It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, ‘I never merited this grace,’ quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.
“I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.
“Go up into the gaps, if you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock — more than a maple — a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”
Just eavesdropping (!) and Wow, that goes way over my head. I plead I don’t get what she’s saying.
It’s probably not fair to take that passage out of context; in truth, quoting Dillard’s always an iffy proposition. It’s not that her thought is so complex, it’s that it’s easier to swim in it than to drink it — if that makes any sense. I’ve been reading and re-reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek since 1973, so I nearly have the book memorized, and so many sections are touchstones for me, sometimes I can’t keep from dragging one out.
It’s great that you do! there’s so much that I don’t know about. Will try to at least take a *look* at a copy of the book!
If you do a search in my blogs for “Annie Dillard,” you’ll find a good bit. I had to laugh — when I searched for her name in Lagniappe, I turned up a post from 2018 titled “An Unexpected Gap”. Yep — I quoted the same passage.
Does it help that I see a direct connection between what Dillard’s saying here and the lines from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” where he writes, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Good heavens! I’d come across that song a few weeks back and I’ve watched/listened several times in the intervening period. Gorgeous nature footage too. Yes that does help a lot, thank you!
The lillies are perfect. You found the perfect poem for them.
I so enjoy pairing words and images. Forcing them never works, but occasionally they come together in just the right way. This pairing pleased me, and I’m glad it pleased you, GP.
Mary Oliver nails it again. And so did you, with your photos of those exquisite floating flowers.
Aren’t they beautiful? This year, I’ve found water lilies in places I’ve never seen them before; I suspect our (over) abundance of fresh water has contributed. The top photo wasn’t taken in a refuge or a garden, but in pooled water at the edge of a county road.
What a joy this Sunday morning. Mary Oliver’s scripture and your photographic accompaniment. I can’t think of a more apt model of being a light in the world. We stand in the muck of the world and transform it into beauty with our lives – imperfect as they are.
Once I began learning about water lilies and lotuses, I began learning more about those flowers’ roles in Buddhism. It’s interesting that what you said in your comment isn’t far removed from this passage I found about the meaning of the lotus for Buddhists:
” The lotus has been a symbol of purity since before the time of the Buddha; its roots are in muddy water, but the lotus flower rises above the mud to bloom clean and fragrant… The mud nourishing the roots represents our messy human lives. It is in the midst of our human experiences and our suffering that we seek to break free and bloom. But while the flower rises above the mud, the roots and stem remain in the mud, where we live our lives. A Zen verse says, “May we exist in muddy water with purity, like a lotus.”
Or, as a water lily.
~such a beautiful illustration!
Beautiful pictures and lovely accompaniment to an interesting poem, certainly they’ve made our morning bright.
I’m especially fond of this species of lily because of its color, and its preference for rising above the water. Newly opened blooms are more blue; as they age, they become white. In a couple of spots I visit, a different species blooms; its flowers float directly on the water, like those Steve Gingold sometimes features.
nice capture with the bee.
That really was a fun one. I took about two dozen photos of that bee, and in most it was out of focus or entirely out of the frame — but sometimes things work out. One photo can do the trick.
That bit of cleverness made me smile!
“But what in this world is perfect?”
Perhaps not perfect, but mighty satisfying is a cup of fresh coffee, a poetic nature-story and lovely lilies before my very eyes.
Thank you for a fitting coda to a waning weekend and a prelude to infinite possibilities.
Add Gini and that fresh cantaloupe, and you just might have perfection. Besides, if we’re willing to be dazzled by simplicity, there’s no end to the waiting delights.
All so wonderful!
Thanks, Becky. It seemed like a nice, early-summertime combination: water, flowers, and words.
Wonderful combination, Linda.
Beautiful photos paired with an appropriate poem, what a nice Sunday read! Love your bee-in-flight capture; she looks determined!
That little bee was a busy one, and I hardly could keep up with her. Of course, being confined to a boardwalk didn’t help matters, but things worked out. I do think it would have been only a nano-second before those antennae would have been hidden behind the petals!
No flower is perfect yet all flowers are perfect. There is no perfection in Nature, only in our minds does perfection exist.
These are lovely shots all, Linda. And Mary Oliver’s words are just right to accompany them.
Your lilies have a touch of blue in them it seems. I’ve not seen that in our N. odorata.
The blue in this species (N. elegans) can be so pronounced that the common names make note of it: blue water lily, or tropical royalblue water lily. It becomes whiter with age, but its propensity to stand high above the water still helps to distinguish it from your N. odorata. Last year I could find only a hint of blue in a few flowers at the end of the season, but with the appearance of new flowers this spring, it’s easier to find colorful ones.
Funny how I guessed this was a Mary Oliver poem as soon as I read the first stanza! You’re boosting my education, Linda! Such gorgeous water lilies. No wonder Mary wants to see them as perfect. I guess we all should put blinders on when we look at things, right? I mean, nothing is perfect, and if we focus on the imperfections, we’ll fail to enjoy the splendors.
On the other hand, imperfections in nature can add character and interest, while imperfections in our work remind us of our limitations. Navajos weavers purposefully add imperfections to their rugs. The intentional error expresses humility, and is considered a way to honor the Great Spirit. Ron Garnanez, a Navajo rug weaver who learned the art from his grandparents, said, “The traditional teaching of the Navajo weaving is that you have to put a mistake there. It must be done because only the Creator is perfect. We’re not perfect so we don’t make a perfect rug.”
Persian rug weavers and Amish quilt makers do the same. There’s a really interesting short article about it here.
Something tells me my web design clients wouldn’t appreciate my placing small errors when doing their sites … even if I told them it was an expression of humility. Great info, Linda!
I still remember my introduction to html, and my amazement that omitting one little character could create chaos. I still get caught from time to time, and find myself messing up even something as simple as a link. It’s always a reminder to pay better attention!
These are amazing. It’s almost like these gorgeous blooms have a magical light which shines from within them … and perhaps they really do … Beautiful photos, so sensitively achieved.
The top photo was my first of the group, and I was caught by the same sense of an inner glow. It took a while to find and photograph the other lilies, and to remember the poem, but they certainly paired well.
Such beautiful portraits, Linda. A fine pairing with MO’s words.
Thanks, Eliza. Purposely searching out lilies at this beginning of their season helped with the photos. Their freshness fairly glowed, and the color was brighter.
Water lilies always bring out the ancient Egyptian in me. They glow like they’re made of thin panes of milk glass. That last one has petals made of moonlight. Exquisite.
Milk glass is a wonderful comparison. I’d not thought of that, but the milky translucence certainly does recall some of the finer milk glass. A similar glow appears in the ‘slices’ of some shells that they sell down in Galveston, or sheets of mica. Although they weren’t white, the oiled paper windows in soddies showed a bit of a resemblance, too.
Delightful photographs to accompany a beautiful poem
Thank you, Derrick. The earliest water lilies usually have a good bit of mud and debris still on them, but once they raise themselves above the water, they really can shine.
I don’t know which I like most — the Oliver poem or your photos. No, I do know — your fabulous photos, caught at perfect light. (But Oliver isn’t bad either!)
I don’t necessarily appreciate all of Mary Oliver’s poems, but more often than not, her view of things is original and appealing. These flowers certainly appealed. I’ve learned one trick for photographing them: don’t dawdle. They open early, and by afternoon they begin to close. The one with the bee actually was closing, rather than opening.
That second photograph is AMAZING.
I have a lot of fun trying to capture the insects that visit our flowers. Most of the time I don’t, but sometimes I get lucky, as I did here. That little bee was heading for the center; a nanosecond more and I would have missed it
Oh, such beautiful photos, how the poem compliments those images. Just lovely.xxx
I’m glad that Mary Oliver was such a prolific poet; I almost always can find something worth sharing in her work, and her focus on the natural world means that her poems often pair well with natural images. Sometimes I wish she still were with us so I could share one or two of these posts with her. I think she’d enjoy seeing how her words are more than just pages in a book.
Lilies are always fun, and mostly “perfect.”
Regarding “perfect”, I’m reminded of a premise I read years ago. The idea was, if “perfect” means the absolute best, that suggests only one thing per group could be perfect. Then he posed the question, “which, of all the glorious sunsets you’ve seen, is the perfect one?”
Exactly. You’ve brought to mind the old Ray Stevens song that contains the line, “Everything is beautiful, in it’s own way.” I suppose the same could be said for perfection; everything is perfect, in its own way. When I was somewhat younger (like 50 years younger), my mother would tell me my room was “a perfect mess.” Just once, I said, “You think this is perfect? I can do better.” She wasn’t amused.