Last Updated on December 19, 2022
Even if you’re not much for poetry, Mary Oliver’s works will likely touch something in you. Maybe it’s because her themes are so simple, so relevant, that it captures us. Or perhaps it’s how she strings her words together, like notes that fill the silence.
Whatever the reason, it’s never too late to read a Mary Oliver poem.
Who was Mary Oliver?
Mary Oliver was an American poet born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. She spent a great deal of her childhood outside. She was known to build huts out of sticks and grass to make a poem-writing refuge.
To her, writing served as an escape from a hard and rough youth. She worked in her teenage years as secretary to Norma Millay, organizing papers for the estate of the latter’s sister: the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her life at the Steepletop estate largely influenced Oliver’s poetry.
Mary Oliver’s poetry focused on regular occurrences such as hovering hummingbirds, the still world of pond life, and forest creatures doing their business without meddling humans. She was often quoted to be standing on the margins of things – whether it be human or animal, earth or sky, or land and water.
Her poems have received a number of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (American Primitive, 1984), the National Book Award (New and Selected Poems, 1992), and a Lannan Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement.
She is often ranked among America’s greatest poets, and is much attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature was not the only center of her works, as later collections shifted to more personal aspects.
Magnificent Mary Oliver Quotes
The beautiful words that Mary Oliver wrote live on this day.
As one of modern times’ most beloved poets, her writings talk about the beauty of the world, of hope, and of belief. More than anything, she wanted the readers of her poems to feel as if they too, shared in her little adventures, in the woods with nothing but books, with no care for the world.
Do you feel like you’ve lost that child-like wonder and awe? Get it back through these inspirational Mary Oliver quotes.
1. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — Mary Oliver, The Summer Day
2. “For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” — Mary Oliver, Upstream
3. “You can have the other words – chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.” — Mary Oliver, Sand Dabs, Five
4. “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” — Mary Oliver, Invitation
5. “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” — Mary Oliver, Yes! No!
6. “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.” — Mary Oliver, Upstream
7. “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” — Mary Oliver, It Was Early
8. “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” — Mary Oliver, The Uses of Sorrow
9. “I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.” — Mary Oliver
10. “Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” — Mary Oliver, West Wind
11. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” — Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
12. “Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.” — Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems
13. “Most mornings I’m up to see the sun, and that rising of the light moves me very much, and I’m used to thinking and feeling in words, so it sort of just happens. I think one thing is that prayer has become more useful, interesting, fruitful, and … almost involuntary in my life,” she says. “And when I talk about prayer, I mean really … what Rumi says in that wonderful line, ‘there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.’” — Mary Oliver
14. “Maybe the desire to make something beautiful is the piece of God that is inside each of us.” — Mary Oliver, Devotions
15. “You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” ― Mary Oliver, Wild Geese
16. “Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers. Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment, and bow their heads.” — Mary Oliver, Mysteries, Yes
17. “Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled — to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing — that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.” ― Mary Oliver, House of Light
18. “Keep some room in your heart for the Unimaginable.” — Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems
19. “Knowledge has entertained me and it has shaped me and it has failed me. Something in me still starves.” ― Mary Oliver, Upstream
20. “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it is over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” — Mary Oliver, When Death Comes
21. “Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver, Sometimes