Mary Oliver (born September 10, 1935) is an American poet whose work has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Oliver was born in Maple Heights, Ohio, to a family of Protestant farmers. She graduated from college at Ohio State University in 1957 and married Jim Oliver. The two divorced soon after and she moved to New York City, where she worked various jobs while writing poetry.

Oliver's first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963. She has since published over 20 volumes of poetry, including American Primitive (1983), which won the Pulitzer Prize; New and Selected Poems (1992), which won the National Book Award; and House of Light (1998). Her work has been translated into more than 20 languages.

In January 2019, the author passed away at the age of 83.

Oliver's work often explored the relationship between humans and nature, with many of her poems referencing specific animals or plants. She was frequently quoted as saying that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God”, and this idea is evident in much of her work.

Despite her illness, Oliver continued to write until the end; one of her last poems, “When Death Comes”, was published just weeks before she died. In it, she reflects on the inevitability of death and how it can be a time of peace and acceptance.


Devotions, by Mary Oliver (2017)

Devotions, selected poems by Mary Oliver, is a compilation of her work from the past twenty years. Oliver has always had a gift for capturing the natural world around her in words, and this book is no exception. She takes the reader on a journey from the everyday to the divine, with stops along the way to appreciate the beauty of a single blade of grass or the vastness of the night sky. In “The Summer Day,” she reflects on what it means to be alive:

This timeless collection, edited by her, features Oliver at her witty and informative best. Within these pages, she provides an astounding compilation of her vividly perceptive and greatly treasured perceptive observations of the natural world. This book is the most-known collection of the author.

Our Favorite Mary Oliver Poems

1. SINGAPORE

In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.

Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.

A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings, Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.

When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this? Everybody needs a job.

Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem. But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor,
which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as hubcaps, with a blue rag.

Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing. She does not work slowly, nor quickly, but like a river. Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.

I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?

Of course, it isn’t.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.

Our thoughts

We all enjoy life differently. Some people love to be surrounded by friends and family, while others prefer to be alone. Some people love to go out and explore, while others would rather stay at home. But despite our differences, we all share one common experience: life.

No matter how we choose to live our lives, we all go through the same experiences: birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and death. We all feel joy and happiness, as well as sadness and pain. We all face challenges and obstacles. And we all have a purpose in life.

Although we may not always understand it, there is a reason why we are here on this earth. Each of us has something special to offer the world. We may not know what that is yet, but it's there waiting for us to discover it.

2. THE STORM

Now through the white orchard my little dog romps, breaking the new snow

with wild feet.

Running here running there, excited, hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins

until the white snow is written upon in large, exuberant letters,

a long sentence, expressing

the pleasures of the body in this world.

Oh, I could not have said it better myself.

Our thoughts

Wintertime in many parts of the country means bundling up to go outside and play in the snow. For many dogs, this is their favorite time of year. The snow provides a new playground where they can run and jump and play until they're exhausted.

Movement and play are at the heart of a healthy life. From early childhood, we learn and thrive through exploration and movement. Playing is how we learn about our world, ourselves, and our relationships. As adults, we often lose touch with the importance of play in our lives. We get bogged down by responsibilities and forget to take time for ourselves to explore, move, and have fun.

Play keeps us young at heart and helps us stay connected to our inner child. It allows us to tap into our creativity and find solutions to problems. And most importantly, it brings joy into our lives.

So find ways to move and play every day – even if it’s just for a few minutes.

3. WHITE-EYES

In winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
but he's restless—
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake.
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.

So, it's over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he's done all he can.

I don't know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds—

which he has summoned
from the north—
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent—
that has turned itself
into snow.

Our thoughts

Death is a natural and inevitable part of life. It happens to everyone, and it's nothing to be afraid of. In fact, death can be a source of wisdom. It can remind us that life is precious and temporary, and that we should make the most of every moment.

Death can also teach us to cherish the relationships we have now, because we never know when they will come to an end. As the saying goes, “life is a journey, not a destination.” We all have to go through death in order to get to the next phase of existence. As it happens in sci-fi book Conjunction: The Wise Society.

4. THE POND

August of another summer, and once again I am drinking the sun

and the lilies again are spread across the water.

I know now what they want is to touch each other.

I have not been here for many years during which time I kept living my life.

Like the heron, who can only croak, who wishes he

could sing,

I wish I could sing.

A little thanks from every throat would be appropriate. This is how it has been, and this is how it is:

All my life I have been able to feel happiness,

except whatever was not happiness, which I also remember.

Each of us wears a shadow.

But just now it is summer again

and I am watching the lilies bow to each other, then slide on the wind and the tug of desire, close, close to one another.

Soon now, I’ll turn and start for home. And who knows, maybe I’ll be singing.

Our thoughts

This is our favorite Mary Oliver poem.

There are so many memories from the past that bring a smile to my face. I remember spending hours playing with my siblings when we were young, going on vacations with my family, laughing until I cried with my friends, and experiencing new things with my loved ones.

Each memory is like a little ray of sunshine, filling me with warmth and happiness. Even though life isn't always easy, these happy memories remind me that there is still light in the world. They give me hope for the future and make me feel grateful for all the good that's happened in my life.

5. DO STONES FEEL?

Do stones feel?
Do they love their life?
Or does their patience drown out everything else?

When I walk on the beach I gather a few white ones, dark ones, the multiple colors.
Don’t worry, I say, I’ll bring you back, and I do.

Is the tree as it rises delighted with its many branches,
each one like a poem?

Are the clouds glad to unburden their bundles of rain? Most of the world says no, no, it’s not possible.
I refuse to think to such a conclusion. Too terrible it would be, to be wrong.

Our thoughts

Magical moments in life are all around us, we just have to be open to seeing them. Maybe they don't move or call us, like stones, but they whisper. There is magic in the way a baby's face lights up when they first see their parents, in the sun bursting through the clouds on a cloudy day, and in the way a loved one can make everything feel better.

Nature is full of magic too! In the way a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly, in the patterns of rainbows after a storm, and in the way a starry night sky makes you feel small and insignificant.

These moments remind us that life is magical and full of surprises. We don't always know what's going to happen next or what we're going to find around the corner, but that's part of what makes life so exciting.

6. I HAPPENED TO BE STANDING

I don’t know where prayers go, or what they do.

Do cats pray, while they sleep half-asleep in the sun?

Does the opossum pray as it crosses the street?

The sunflowers? The old black oak

growing older every year?

I know I can walk through the world, along the shore or under the trees,

with my mind filled with things of little importance, in full

self-attendance. A condition I can’t really call being alive.

Is a prayer a gift, or a petition, or does it matter?

The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.

Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing just outside my door, with my notebook open, which is the way I begin every morning.

Then a wren in the privet began to sing.

He was positively drenched in enthusiasm, I don’t know why. And yet, why not.

I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.

But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be

if it isn’t a prayer?

So I just listened, my pen in the air.

Our thoughts

We all search for hope at some point in our lives. Whether we’re fighting a battle we know we can’t win or simply trying to get through the day, hope is what keeps us going. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, the ray of sunshine on a cloudy day. And for many people, prayer is their source of hope.

Prayer doesn’t always bring us relief from our struggles, but it does give us strength to keep going. It reminds us that we’re not alone, that Someone is listening and cares about us. Prayer can also give us a sense of peace and calm in the midst of chaos.

Whatever your faith may be, prayer is a powerful tool that can offer hope and relief when nothing else seems to work.

Our Favorite Quotes from Mary Oliver Prose

7. WINTER HOURS

All things are meltable, and replaceable. Not at this moment, but soon enough, we are lambs and we are leaves, and we are stars, and the shining, mysterious pond water itself.

Our thoughts

Form isn't constant. The world around us is always changing, and that means that the form of things is never stable. This can be a difficult thing to accept, especially when we're used to things staying the same. But it's important to remember that change is always possible, and that gives us hope for the future.

8. UPSTREAM

In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.

Our thoughts

There are many different ways to explore your inner self. Some people use journaling or meditation, while others may choose to explore their spirituality or participate in therapy. Whatever method you choose, the most important thing is to be honest with yourself and to be patient.

The answers you seek may not come all at once, but with time and effort, you can gain a deeper understanding of who you are and what matters to you.

Mary Oliver Poems & Prose: A Conclusion

Mary Oliver was an incredible poet who has written some of the best poems in recent memory. Her poems are touching, insightful, and often leave the reader with a sense of peace and understanding. If you have not had the opportunity to read her work, I highly recommend that you do so. You will not be disappointed.

If you are looking for more delighting poetry check Amanda Gorman's poetry.