Unbearable Sound of the Roses

April 2, 2018
Nancy McCaochan


Last week a friend sent me the poem, “How I go to the woods” by Mary Oliver. The last line, “If you have ever gong to the woods with me, I must love you very much,” made me cry. My friend and I have spent many days in the woods together, noting animal tracks, watching the play of light in the canopy, and seated at “the cave” a sandstone outcrop cantilevered over a rock and sand amphitheater witnessing the wind. We were often silent, side-by-side gazing at nothing in particular, absorbed in the palpable feminine presence of the rocks on and under which we sat.

“How I go into the woods” arrived in my inbox on a day that I had claimed as my own. Not one external commitment called on my time. I was home alone and loving it and loving the poem and the warmth of my friend’s love.

I took the poem to my yoga classes the next day, not sure that it was an appropriate theme on which to build the sequences. But I loved the memories it evoked and wanted to continue to bask in my friend’s virtual embrace by sharing it with my students.

The poem describes various reasons that the poet goes into the woods alone. She doesn’t like the chatter of her gregarious friends. She doesn’t want to be seen communing with the trees. But most of all she goes alone into the woods—and nature itself—to be invisible.

In the third stanza Mary Oliver writes

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, 
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unbearable sound of the roses singing.

As I read these words to my class, the poem emerged as a perfect theme for yoga. What, after all, is yoga but merging with all that is—becoming invisible.

In ceasing to be a “somebody” with hard edges and definitive ego boundaries, we encounter a delicious, expansive stillness. From this infinite place we hear and see and smell more acutely. We become alive.

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