Friday, March 16, 2012

American Poet Mary Oliver

Crabapple blossoms, March 16, 2012

I learn something new each day and today was no exception.The poet Mary Oliver (born 1935) was brought to my attention in an e-mail from a friend. Maybe I should know of Oliver; I just consider it a “gap” in my cultural knowledge that she is new to me  

Oliver has won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize and has been described by The New York Times as "far and away, America's best-selling poet."
Mary Oliver
After receiving the  e-mail I searched out her work because I liked the poem very much. Upon reading others, I find that her words really “speak to me,” as they say. Of her poems I’ve read, this is one I like best:


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
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

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 clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ Mary Oliver ~


Isn’t that beautiful? I am blown away by its simple words but profound meaning. Perhaps one reason I’m attracted to her poetry is that it feels similar to the works of my favorite poet, Edna St. Vincent Milay. I won’t make this a post about Milay today; I’ll save that for another time.

Edna St. Vincent Milay (1892-1950)
But Oliver’s association with Milay began at age 17, when she visited the home of the late Millay, in Austerlitz, upper New York state. She and Norma, the poet’s sister, became friends and Oliver “more or less lived there for the next six or seven years, running around the 800 acres like a child, helping Norma, or at least being company to her” and assisting with organizing the late poet's papers.
Milay's writings must have greatly influenced Oliver. 
Oliver has also been compared to Emily Dickinson, with whom she shares an affinity for solitude and interior monologue. Her poetry combines dark introspection with joyous release. Although she has been criticized for writing poetry that assumes a dangerously close relationship with nature, she finds the self is only strengthened through an immersion with nature.
Do you have a favorite poet? A favorite poem? Are you familiar with the works of Mary Oliver?


  1. Elizabeth Barrett Browning - especially Sonnets from the Portuguese. Also like John Donne. And can't ignore the first favorite - A Child's Garden Of Verses - Robert Lewis Stevenson. How do you like to go up in a swing, Up in the air so blue? I always say "How do I like to go up in a swing...."

    1. Oh, those are great ones, Beryl. Sonnets from the Portuguese is one of my favorites, too!


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