top of page

Poems by Mary Oliver

"The late poet Mary Oliver is among the most beloved writers of modern times. Amidst the harshness of life, she found redemption in the natural world and in beautiful, precise language." ~Krista Tippett



1. When Death Comes

Mary Oliver quote

When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse


to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle-pox


when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,


I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?


And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,


and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,


and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,

tending, as all music does, toward silence,


and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.


When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.


I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.


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


2. Invitation

Mary Oliver quote

Oh do you have time

to linger

for just a little while

out of your busy


and very important day

for the goldfinches

that have gathered

in a field of thistles


for a musical battle,

to see who can sing

the highest note,

or the lowest,


or the most expressive of mirth,

or the most tender?

Their strong, blunt beaks

drink the air


as they strive

melodiously

not for your sake

and not for mine


and not for the sake of winning

but for sheer delight and gratitude –

believe us, they say,

it is a serious thing


just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

I beg of you,


do not walk by

without pausing

to attend to this

rather ridiculous performance.


It could mean something.

It could mean everything.

It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:

You must change your life.



3. A Voice From I Don't Know Where

Mary Oliver quote

It seems you love this world very much.

“Yes, I said. “This beautiful world.”


And you don’t mind the mind, that keeps you

busy all the time with its dark and bright wonderings?

“No, I’m quite used to it. Busy, busy,

all the time.”


And you don’t mind living with those questions,

I mean the hard ones, that no one can answer?

“Actually, they’re the most interesting.”


And you have a person in your life whose hand

you like to hold?

“Yes, I do.”


It must surely, then, be very happy down there

in your heart.

“Yes,” I said. “It is.”



4. When I Am Among the Trees

Mary Oliver quote

When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.


I am so distant from the hope of myself,

in which I have goodness, and discernment,

and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.


Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.


And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,“

and you too have come

into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”



5. Messenger

John Roedel quote

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 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.



6. The Journey

Mary Oliver quote

One day you finally knew


what you had to do, and began,


though the voices around you


kept shouting


their bad advice–


though the whole house


began to tremble


and you felt the old tug


at your ankles.


“Mend my life!”


each voice cried.


But you didn’t stop.


You knew what you had to do,


though the wind pried


with its stiff fingers


at the very foundations,


though their melancholy


was terrible.


It was already late


enough, and a wild night,


and the road full of fallen


branches and stones.


But little by little,


as you left their voices behind,


the stars began to burn


through the sheets of clouds,


and 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,


determined to do


the only thing you could do–


determined to save


the only life you could save.






Comments


bottom of page