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One day you finally knew what you had to do: a poem by Mary Oliver

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Pack Square Fountain 16 by anoldent via FlickrTime to move on but not packed yet?

Have you ever been at a turning point in your life when you know you will be moving on?  You are beginning to pack but not going yet?  When people around you assume that you will be there for ever and yet you know you will not?

What is the word or phrase for this time just before dawn?

Crossing the Rubicon

The psychology of ‘leaving the house’ is well known.  We call it crossing the Rubicon.  The psychologist most associated with this phenomenon is Peter Goldwitzer.

Crossing the Rubicon feels good but is also a dangerous time. We are so committed that we don’t listen.

Resolving but unresolved?

There is not a lot written about the less definitive time that comes before.  Indeed, psychologists seem to think that if we just behave like someone who has crossed the Rubicon, all the issues on our side of the river will be resolved.

But surely this state of being neither here nor there is worthy of its own respect?

As ever I turn to poetry.   Mary Oliver has a wonderful poem about someone who is just about to set out and is still very attached to the world they are in.

The Journey

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
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.

Mary Oliver

Do you feel the “whole house begin to tremble” and the “old tug at your ankles”?

Are you about to step into the world “determined to save the only life you could save?

Mary Oliver is still alive and writing  If we want more, we should all go out and buy one of her books or send one to someone we love.  Here is the link to Mary Oliver at Amazon.



  1. beverly stern beverly stern

    I found this poem and it has great meaning for me. I am 64 years old and all my life has been spend making others pleased and happy.
    I have been married 45 years to the same man. In many ways, I “know what I need to do” but don’t yet have the strength or courage.
    Thanks for the words of hope that you give me in this poem.

  2. I’ve just come across your site whilst looking for this poem and I will be exploring further, looks great. For me, what this poem expresses so well is how hard it can be to make that first step, how we long to find those stars without leaving and how impossible that is.

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