Losing a Poetry Icon


This week we’ve lost a poetry icon: Mary Oliver.

She has been a favorite poet of mine over the years, and I’ve read her poems in hundreds of my classes. So, today I am offering a few of her poems here in a tribute to her. That her words live on in our hearts, and she continues to inspire us from the other side.

Thank you Mary Oliver for your insights, your poetic proficiency, and your ability to see and feel so deeply. You are missed already.

Wild Geese

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 your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of 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.


Every day

            I see or I hear


            That more or less

Kills me

            With delight,

                        That leaves me

            Like a needle

In the haystack 

            Of light.

It is what I was born for

            To look, to listen,

To lose myself

            Inside this soft world

                        To instruct myself

            Over and over

In joy,

            And acclamation.

                        Nor am I talking

            About the exceptional,


The fearful, the dreadful,

            The very extravagant

                        But of the ordinary,

            The common, the very drab,

The daily presentations.

            Oh, good scholar,

                        I say to myself,

                                    How can you help

But grow wise

            With such teachings

                        As these-

                        The untrimmable light

Of the world,

            The ocean’s shine,

                        The prayers that are made

            Our of grass?

The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean – 

The one who has flung herself out of the grass,

The one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

Who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

Who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

Into the grass, how to kneel down into 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?

Coming Home

When we are driving in the dark,
on the long road to Provincetown,
when we are weary,
when the buildings and the scrub pines lose their familiar look,
I imagine us rising from the speeding car.
I imagine us seeing everything from another place--
the top of one of the pale dunes, or the deep and nameless
fields of the sea.
And what we see is a world that cannot cherish us,
but which we cherish.
And what we see is our life moving like that
along the dark edges of everything,
headlights sweeping the blackness,
believing in a thousand fragile and unprovable things.
Looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me.


My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird-

                        Equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.


Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect; Let me

Keep my mind on what matters,

Which is my work,


Which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.


The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are there,


Which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart, and

These body-clothes,

A mouth with which to give shouts of joy

            To the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug up


Telling them all, over and over how it is

That we live forever.