The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But 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
recognised 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 first time I ever read this poem was in college. With the self-assurance only a teenager could possess, I fell in love with this poem. It became my anthem, my anchor, the manifesto I would return to in those years in the moments of doubt and uncertainty.
This poem was later shared with me by a counselor in college, who told me to consider how necessary it is to separate from one’s family of origin. He encouraged me to move away from home, to learn good judgment by making many mistakes, and to finally find myself in the world.
I am swiftly approaching thirty. That “new voice” has yet to appear, and if it did, I am not sure it would be “recognised as my own.” And I don’t know if those stars have burned themselves out by now, or if the cloud cover is simply too thick to penetrate.
There is one thing I do know.
I would cherish the opportunity to hear my mom’s voice again, to ask for her advice. To know everything she experienced and learned and regretted and rejoiced in for her too short sixty years on this earth.
Perhaps if I continue on this journey, those stars will eventually sear through the smokey sky. One day, I may hear my voice with clarity, and if I am very, very fortunate, just maybe I will hear her voice, too, whispering to my soul.