Just for writers,  Poetry,  the challenges of being original

How to find your voice: “The Journey”

“And there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own.” — Mary Oliver

In my workshops, we often discuss the importance of finding or developing our own creative voices. It’s never easy. Every day, we are bombarded by a cacophony of inner critics, cultural norms, and religious and political pundits — not to mention all the mindless white noise generated by social media. We have to pull back and listen deeply to hear our own truth. Otherwise, we’re simply mimicking others when we speak, write, or design our lives.  

Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” gives us a new map. It’s one of my favorite poems about living authentically, and it brings shivers of recognition each time I read it aloud in a class. –CL

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
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.

— Reprinted from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press); 1992

Photo by Cindy La Ferle

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.

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