What does it mean to not hold back?

In her poem “Little Things,” Sharon Olds writes, I am doing something I learned early to do, I am / paying attention to small beauties, / whatever I have–as it were our duty / to find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world. Like Olds, Mary Oliver’s poems teach me to pay attention to the little things in life. Her words bind me to this world by reminding me to be more present in and more attentive to the world.

In the poem “Hum, Hum,” Mary Oliver uses several versions of the phrase “Nothing could hold them back.” Of what can’t be held back, she writes about bees, words of poets, and sadness. I’ll add winter and truth to the list of things that can’t be held back.

Another beauty I love from this poem is the phrase hum, hum. It reminds me of a humanities course I took in college in which the professor connected music to our heartbeats.

Thump, thump. Hum, hum.

Section 5 of the poem reveals the need for music: I think there ought to be / a little music here: / hum, hum. When I think of someone humming, it brings a magical quality. I imagine a mother humming a lullaby to her baby or someone humming a song in order to have music to dance to.

Last week, I chose a Mary Oliver quote to include in a frame on my desk. The quote comes from the poem “The Summer Day.” It says: Tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life. This quote reminded me of one of a video I watched recently by Veronica Krestow in which she says that sometimes we get in the way of sharing ourselves with the world. We tell ourselves that what we have to share doesn’t hold value or that we are not good enough.

When you doubt yourself, you keep yourself from making the impact that you are here to make.

For me, the message that stands out this week is that we should not get in the way of sharing our talents and passions with the world. When we doubt ourselves, we keep ourselves from making the impact that we are here to make. 

Oliver writes, The words of poets / a hundred or hundreds of years dead– / their words that would not be held back. Not holding back can mean so many things. I’m grieving with the fans of Mary Oliver. As I grieve, I am grateful that she did not hold back her words. I am grateful that she wrote them and that the magic and music–the hum, hum–of her words made their way out into the world and into our hearts.

The Nature of These Lines

I share poetry lines that move me and why they move me in this poetry series called “These Lines.” I am still reading The Carrying by Ada Limon, so lines from her poems made it to this series again.


I hate the world, the pain of it that circles in us,

that makes us want to be the moon,

the treasure, and not the thing on the sea


from “The Dead Boy” by Ada Limon

  • I have found myself hating the world and its pain. I love how Ada includes everyone in this “want[ing] to be the moon” with her use of “us.” I have also wondered what it would be like to be something nonhuman: a flower, a river, a bird.

Continue reading

There are Ghosts and Madness in These Lines

This is a poetry series in which I share poetry lines that move me and why they move me. The following lines are from The Carrying by Ada Limon.

What if I want to go devil instead? Bow

down to the madness that makes me.

spirit-2304469_1920from “Last Summer After a Panic Attack”

  • I think that all artists including writers carry a madness. (Correct me if I’m wrong.) Here, I’m using the either the “state of frenzied or chaotic activity” definition or “extremely foolish behavior.” My madness sometimes occurs after midnight when I can’t sleep and there’s chaos in my mind. A whirlwind of writing ideas and dreams.

Unanswered messages like ghosts in the throat.

from “Last Summer After a Panic Attack”

  • I have never thought of ghosts living in the throat, and I admire this line so much for its creativity. I would have expected ghosts in the attic or ghosts in the cemetery, so the end of this line caught me off guard. It reminds me of the things I don’t say when I need to say them. Have you ever felt discomfort on your throat because you didn’t say what you wanted to say, and you kept it to yourself?

Some days there is a violent sister inside of me, and a red ladder that wants to go elsewhere.

from “The Vulture & the Body”

  • This line reminds me of rage and sins. This violent sister is the aspect of myself that comes alive when I forget to not lose my chill. This violent sister forgets to think before she speaks or acts after a long day or a long week.

What is your take on these lines? If you liked this post, subscribe to The Hummingbird’s Journal! 


Hi, my name is Andrea, and I am an English Language Arts teacher who loves reflecting over the truth, beauty, and wisdom I find through reading, journaling, and teaching. The Hummingbird’s Journal is where I collect these reflections. Join me on Twitter where I retweet (more than I tweet) all things funny, enlightening, artsy, and poetical.