Author Feature: Mary Oliver

Mary OliverMary Oliver is an award winning American poet (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award among others). Full disclosure, I am not much of a poetry fan. But my friend introduced me to Mary Oliver’s poetry (thanks Nel!) and I have to say I am enjoying her poems thoroughly. They are down to earth and approachable and most important – understandable! I feel like her imagery and observations are so everyday and recognizable, I am continually thinking “Yes, I’ve seen that too!” or “Yes, I’ve noticed that, and look how nicely you’ve put it into words for me!” Her main focus seems to be about how humans interact with the natural world – the wonder and the pain of it–this is no hallmark card writing, there is no flinching from what is difficult, giving it a ‘real’ feel. Here are some brief samplings:

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” 


“to live in this world

you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go”


“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
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.”


“Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”

Poetry and short story are so different from novel or non-fiction reading, and I’ve been challenging myself to venture into those arenas since it is not my natural inclination. Having a collection ready for a daily dose seems to work best. I have Dog Songs and A Thousand Mornings on my Kindle and  I enjoy dipping in for a quick read, just a poem or two, to savour for the day, like a piece of dark chocolate. I am sure I will be adding more of her collections to my library as time goes on. I had never heard of Oliver before, but when I mentioned her name at the breakfast table over Christmas, a couple of my children said they enjoyed her work and immediately mentioned their favourites!! Here are some of her main works. She has always been a private person and prefers to let her work speak for itself, but she has a website where you can learn more. Mary Oliver Website

Here are a few of her collections:

New and Selected PoemsWhen New and Selected Poems, Volume One was originally published in 1992, Mary Oliver was awarded the National Book Award. In the years since its initial appearance it has become one of the best-selling volumes of poetry in the country. This collection features thirty poems published for the first time in this volume, as well as selections from the poet’s first eight books.

Blue HorsesAt its heart, Blue Horses asks what it means to truly belong to this world, to live in it attuned to all its changes. Humorous, gentle, and always honest, Oliver is a visionary of the natural world.

A Thousand MorningsIn A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver returns to the imagery that has come to define her life’s work, transporting us to the marshland and coastline of her beloved home, Provincetown, Massachusetts.

ThirstThirst, a collection of forty-three poems, introduces two new directions in Oliver’s work. Grappling with grief at the death of her beloved partner of over forty years, she strives to experience sorrow as a path to spiritual progress, grief as part of loving and not its end. And within these pages she chronicles for the first time her discovery of faith, without abandoning the love of the physical world that has been a hallmark of her work for four decades.

Dog SongsA collection devoted to dogs, celebrating how her furry friends have enriched her world.

One response to “Author Feature: Mary Oliver

  1. What a great review of Mary Oliver! I found myself holding my breath as I read it, maybe because it felt like I was getting a whirlwind “tour” of her work. So glad you enjoy her poetry too! However, I want to give credit to Jenn, my wonderful EA at school, who introduced Mary Oliver to me.

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