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Artist/Naturalist Pages
Mary Oliver
1935 -

Mary Oliver is a superb poet of natural Earth. She has opened up the possibilities of nature-consciousness to many thousands. Her poems use remarkably simple language to share her love for other lives and make them come alive for the reader. Oliver is master of her craft; she is so skilled that her poems are transparent.

Mary Oliver helps us learn to be at home with Earth. Like Thoreau, Oliver is essentially wedded to place, her portion of ponds and lands and beach around Provincetown, MA.

Mary Oliver helps us honor ourselves as parts of Earth. 

In 1984 Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize for her book of poems, American Primitive. She has published many collections of poems, and her New and Selected Poems won the 1994 National Book Award.

Oliver may blink at life's pain, but she never backs away. She conveys nature's terrible clarity in poems that carry us deep within ourselves.


Mary Oliver"s poetry is fine and deep; it reads like a blessing. Her special gift is to connect us with our sources in the natural world, its beauties and terrors and mysteries and consolations.

Stanley Kunitz

 

In Her Own Words

 

At Blackwater Pond  

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have
settled 
after a night of rain. 
I dip my cupped hands. I drink 
a long time. It tastes 
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold 
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them 
deep inside me, whispering 
oh what is that beautiful thing 
that just happened?

 

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 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.

 

 The Sun  

Have you ever seen 
anything 
in your life 
more wonderful 

than the way the sun, 
every evening, 
relaxed and easy, 
floats toward the horizon 

and into the clouds or the hills, 
or the rumpled sea, 
and is gone-- 
and how it slides again 

out of the blackness, 
every morning, 
on the other side of the world, 
like a red flower 

streaming upward on its heavenly oils, 
say, on a morning in early summer, 
at its perfect imperial distance-- 
and have you ever felt for anything 
such wild love-- 
do you think there is anywhere, in any language, 
a word billowing enough 
for the pleasure 

that fills you, 
as the sun 
reaches out, 
as it warms you 

as you stand there, 
empty-handed-- 
or have you too 
turned from this world-- 

or have you too 
gone crazy 
for power, 
for things? 

 

Sleeping in the Forest   

I thought the earth remembered me, she 
took me back so tenderly, arranging 
her dark skirts, her pockets 
full of lichens and seeds. I slept 
as never before, a stone 
on the riverbed, nothing 
between me and the white fire of the stars 
but my thoughts, and they floated 
light as moths among the branches 
of the perfect trees. All night 
I heard the small kingdoms breathing 
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night 
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling 
with a luminous doom. By morning 
I had vanished at least a dozen times 
into something better. 

 

Some Questions You Might Ask

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn't?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

 


The Rabbit

Scatterghost,
it can't float away.
And the rain, everybody's brother,
won't help. And the wind all these days
flying like ten crazy sisters everywhere
can't seem to do a thing. No one but me,
and my hands like fire,
to lift him to a last burrow. I wait

days, while the body opens and begins
to boil. I remember

the leaping in the moonlight, and can't touch it,
wanting it miraculously to heal
and spring up
joyful. But finally

I do. And the day after I've shoveled
the earth over, in a field nearby

I find a small bird's nest lined pale
and silvery and the chicks—
are you listening, death?—warm in the rabbit's fur.

 

 

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