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American poet (1935- )

There was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world.

MARY OLIVER, "The Journey," Dream Work

I decided very early that I wanted to write. But I didn't think of it as a career. I didn't even think of it as a profession.... It was the most exciting thing, the most powerful thing, the most wonderful thing to do with my life. And I didn't question if I should - I just kept sharpening the pencils!

MARY OLIVER, The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 9, 1992

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," Thirst: Poems

With words, I could build a world I could live in. I had a very dysfunctional family, and a very hard childhood. So I made a world out of words. And it was my salvation.

MARY OLIVER, "Maria Shriver Interviews the Famously Private Poet Mary Oliver," O Magazine, Mar. 2011

And now I understand something so frightening, and wonderful—how the mind clings to the road it knows, rushing through crossroads, sticking like lint to the familiar.

MARY OLIVER, "Robert Schumann," Dream Work

Poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.

MARY OLIVER, A Poetry Handbook

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us.

MARY OLIVER, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.

MARY OLIVER, Blue Pastures

We all have a hungry heart, and one of the things we hunger for is happiness. So as much as I possibly could, I stayed where I was happy. I spent a great deal of time in my younger years just writing and reading, walking around the woods in Ohio, where I grew up. I often say if you could lay out all the writing I did in those years, it would go to the moon and back. It was bad, it was derivative. But when you love what you're doing, honestly, you can get better.

MARY OLIVER, "Maria Shriver Interviews the Famously Private Poet Mary Oliver," O Magazine, Mar. 2011

The woods that I loved as a child are entirely gone. The woods that I loved as a young adult are gone. The woods that most recently I walked in are not gone, but they're full of bicycle trails.

MARY OLIVER, NPR interview, Oct. 12, 2012

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

MARY OLIVER, "The Summer Day," New and Selected Poems

Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,
what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so
utterly alone.

MARY OLIVER, "Love Sorrow," Red Bird: Poems

Everyone knows the great energies running amok cast
terrible shadows, that each of the so-called
senseless acts has its thread looping
back through the world and into a human heart.

MARY OLIVER, "Shadows," Dream Work

Once in a while,
you can creep out of your own life
and become someone else--
an explosion
in that nest of wires
we call the imagination.

MARY OLIVER, "Acid," Dream Work

Poetry is a river; many voices travel in it; poem after poem moves along in the exciting crests and falls of the river waves. None is timeless; each arrives in an historical context; almost everything, in the end, passes. But the desire to make a poem, and the world's willingness to receive it--indeed the world's need of it--these never pass.

MARY OLIVER, A Poetry Handbook

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

MARY OLIVER, "Sometimes," Red Bird

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," Winter Hours

How does any of us live in this world?
One thing compensates for another, I suppose.
Sometimes what's wrong does not hurt at all, but rather
shines like a new moon.

MARY OLIVER, "Consequences," Dream Work

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

MARY OLIVER, "When Death Comes," New and Selected Poems, vol. 2

It was not a choice of writing or not writing. It was a choice of loving my life or not loving my life. To keep writing was always a first priority.... I worked probably 25 years by myself.... Just writing and working, not trying to publish much. Not giving readings. A longer time than people really are willing to commit before they want to go public.

MARY OLIVER, The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 9, 1992

I learned to build bookshelves and brought books to my room, gathering them around me thickly. I read by day and into the night. I thought about perfectibility, and deism, and adjectives, and clouds, and the foxes, I locked my door, from the inside, and leaped from the roof and went to the woods, by day or darkness.

MARY OLIVER, Blue Pastures

How many mysteries have you seen in your
lifetime? How many nets pulled
full over the boat's side, each silver body
ready or not falling into
submission? How many roses in early summer
uncurling above the pale sands then
falling back in unfathomable
willingness? And what can you say? Glory
to the rose and the leaf, to the seed, to the
silver fish. Glory to time and the wild fields,
and to joy. And to grief's shock and torpor, its near swoon.

MARY OLIVER, "On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate," Thirst: Poems

I believe art is utterly important. It is one of the things that could save us. We don't have to rely totally on experience if we can do things in our imagination.... It's the only way in which you can live more lives than your own. You can escape your own time, your own sensibility, your own narrowness of vision.

MARY OLIVER, The Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 9, 1992

I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings.

MARY OLIVER, Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.

MARY OLIVER, "Of Power and Time," Blue Pastures


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