Double Devotion by Nancy Mugele

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A poem comes looking for me rather than I hunting after it. —Richard Wilbur

Last week several concurrent events made me think a lot about one of my favorite subjects – you guessed it. Poetry. Richard Wilbur, poet laureate and two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning poet known for lyrical elegance written in classical form, died. He was 96. One of the preeminent poets of the past century, his work maintained traditionalism in an expressive genre where he was sometimes criticized for his formalism. “Richard Wilbur reminded us of the enduring power of tradition: that poems about the natural world and about love, written in classical, traditional rhyme and meter, would continue to matter going forward into the future,” said Robert Casper, who leads the Library of Congress’s Poetry and Literature Center.

In my humble opinion, no one does poems about the natural world better than Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, whose new collection, Devotions, was published last week. Devotions is her personal selection of her best work spanning more than five decades. I could not wait to purchase it and I am still pouring over its pages. Don’t tell Jim but I bought two copies, one for my office so I can read it during DEARS (Drop Everything And Read Silently) time at Kent School and one for evenings and weekends at home. Maybe I will gift one copy eventually but for now, I love having it at my fingertips wherever I am!

I believe that when Mary Oliver wrote pay attention, be astonished, and tell about it. She was speaking to me. She also noted attention is the beginning of devotion. Mary Oliver’s collection with its inspiring book title and Richard Wilbur’s loyalty to traditionalism, have made me reflect on my devotions this week. Defined by Dictionary.com as love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause, I am sure you know already that my family is, first and foremost, my single most important devotion.  Yet, this past year, through my attention, I have discovered that Kent School is a close second. I am so fortunate that my life’s work has brought me to this incredible learning community in Chestertown where I am fortunate to have realized double devotion. And, when I can combine my two devotions – family and Kent School, it is truly poetic for me.

Sunday, I did just that. I had the privilege to watch poetry in motion at Kent School’s Osprey Triathlon. Individual racers and teams participated in biking, kayaking (under less than optimal conditions – I believe there was a small craft advisory!) and running. I was so proud of my husband and daughter who each placed third in their age groups in their very first triathlon, but I was even more grateful that they came out to support me and my School. At each event, perseverance and resiliency were exhibited by the racers and I stood in awe of the physical strength of their bodies as well as their hearts and minds, all moving gracefully with keen focus. The participants believed in themselves and believed in supporting Kent School. It was humbling and inspiring.

Throughout the morning I kept thinking about the first two lines of Mary Oliver’s poem Don’t Hesitate:

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,

don’t hesitate. Give in to it.

The Osprey Triathlon was joyful and none of the participants hesitated for a second – especially if they had a good transition team! Not sure I qualified as that for Team Mugele but you will have to ask Jim and Jenna.

In my constant role as resident cheerleader and encourager, I am feeling empowered this week by poets everywhere, and especially Mary Oliver, to take time to observe the world around me in its purest details, wonder about its magnificence and its significance, and write it down. And also, to celebrate, wholeheartedly, my double devotion.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s

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Letters to Editor

  1. Taylor Porter says:

    Thank you, Nancy, for this beautiful, heartfelt reflection. We are lucky to have your vision and spirit at Kent School.

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