Poet Spotlight: Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

I recently discovered the engaging and captivating poetry of Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet and nature lover, whose influences included Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau.

Her love of nature began as a child in Ohio, where she escaped the drama of her dysfunctional family and found solace in the woods nearby. This love bloomed into a passion for both nature and poetry, which continued throughout the rest of her life.

She later worked at Steepletop, the estate of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and continued on to study at Ohio State University and Vassar College. Her first collection of poems, No Voyage and Other Poems, was published in 1963 when she was 28. She held several university teaching posts, as well as residencies in the northeast during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

She met her partner, photographer Mary Malone Cook in the late 1950’s, and eventually, the pair moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts where they lived together until Cook’s death in 2005. Mary eventually moved to South Florida, where she remained until her death in 2019.

She valued her privacy and did few interviews, preferring instead to let her poetry speak for itself. Her body of work is extensive, as is her list of honors and awards. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for the book “American Primitive“, as well as The National Book Award for Poetry in 1992 for “New and Selected Poems”.

Here are the first few lines of “Wild Geese” which first caught my attention…

And these lines, from “A Summer’s Day”

“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

Her thoughts on creativity drew me in as well…

“ I think we’re creative all day long. We have to have an appointment to have that work out on the page. Because the creative part of us gets tired of waiting, or just gets tired.”

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work”

For more information and to read some of her poetry:


Mary Oliver / Poetry Foundation

Academy of American Poets

Interesting Literature

And here she is reading from A Thousand Mornings in 2019


Filed under American Poets, Creativity, inspiration, poetry, writer, writinglife

19 responses to “Poet Spotlight: Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

  1. Encantada

    It’s fascinating how his childhood experience in the Ohio woods shaped his life and work. This shows that our childhood experiences can profoundly influence our personality and interests throughout our lives.

    • So true…she discovered very early in her life where her passion and inspiration came from. We can trace back many of our interests and pursuits to our own childhoods. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  2. I feel the need to shout that last quote from the mountain tops…lol Thanks so much for highlighting Mary Oliver.

  3. mary was a great writer, these are amazing words that we can really understand.

    • She truly was. And her words transcend time, making them relatable when she wrote them, now, and in the future. So glad you enjoyed, and thanks for stopping by!

  4. even though i do email marketing, i have always loved writing both are very challenging but similar on the value you can give

  5. Oh, wow! This is some of the best, most inspiring poetry I’ve read lately. I am definitely going to read more Mary Oliver. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. I have read a couple of her poems in anthologies but have not gone deeper into her work. This has given me a push to read more of her poetry and inspirations. Thank you.

  7. “the creative part of us gets tired of waiting, or just gets tired.” Oh yea, it’s got to come out or it says the heck with me and goes into hiding, forcing me to look for it. Thanks for sharing.

  8. wow, I love these thoughts about creativity. Thank you for introducing me to this poet:)