Mary Oliver Quotes: Mary Oliver is best known for being America’s best-selling poet because of her uplifting quotes that reflect a free-thinking perspective in life. Many aspects of her tumultuous life influenced her creative work, which continues to inspire poetry lovers to this day.
Mary Jane Oliver was a well-known non-fiction author and poet, who won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Book Award for her work “House of Light” and “American Primitive.” The New York Times even described her as “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet” in 2007.
She has distinctly described true picturesque scenes which glorify the majesty of Mother Earth through her work. Mary Oliver’s theme of writing is directed towards the simple things in life which can create a euphoria that people usually ignore to recognize in pursuit of material things.
Her poetry also blends dark introspection with a joyful release, which is why she was often being compared to Emily Dickinson, with whom she shared a fondness for inner monologues and solitude.
Oliver was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012 but was treated and granted a clean bill of health. On the 17th of January 2019, she eventually passed away due to lymphoma at her home in Florida.
We have collected some of the most memorable Mary Oliver quotes and sayings that shows her thoughts and views regarding life, work, writing, and more.
Mary Oliver Quotes About Life
1. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
2. “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.”
3. “To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
4. “Wasn’t it Emerson who said, ‘My life is for itself and not for a spectacle’? I have a happy, full, good life because I hold it private.”
5. “You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul.”
You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul – Mary Oliver. #quotes #life #fool #yourself #soul
6. “I’m going to die one day. I know it’s coming for me, too. I’ll be a mountain, I’ll be a stone on the beach. I’ll be nourishment.”
7. “I think one thing is that prayer has become more useful, interesting, fruitful, and… almost involuntary in my life.”
Mary Oliver Quotes About Work
1. “I simply do not distinguish between work and play.”
2. “There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you’re working a few hours a day and you’ve got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you’re okay.”
3. “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work – Mary Oliver. #quotes #work #attention #endless #proper #work
4. “There is nothing better than work. Work is also playing; children know that. Children play earnestly as if it were work. But people grow up, and they work with sorrow upon them. It’s a duty.
Mary Oliver Quotes About Writing
1. “Words have not only a definition… but also the felt quality of their own kind of sound.”
2. “I have a notebook with me all the time, and I begin scribbling a few words. When things are going well, the walk does not get anywhere; I finally just stop and write.”
3. “My first two books are out of print and, okay, they can sleep there comfortably. It’s early work, derivative work.”
4. “Writers must… take care of the sensibility that houses the possibility of poems.”
5. “Poetry is one of the ancient arts, and it began as did all the fine arts, within the original wilderness of the earth.”
6. “One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear.”
One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear – Mary Oliver. #quotes #writing #poetry #clear
7. “I worked probably 25 years by myself, just writing and working, not trying to publish much, not giving readings.”
8. “Instead of taking the reader by the hand and running him down the hill, I want to lead him into a house of many rooms, and leave him alone in each of them.”
9. “I consider myself kind of a reporter – one who uses words that are more like music and that have a choreography. I never think of myself as a poet; I just get up and write.”
10. “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.”
11. “If I’ve done my work well, I vanish completely from the scene. I believe it is invasive of the work when you know too much about the writer.”
12. “It’s very important to write things down instantly, or you can lose the way you were thinking out a line. I have a rule that if I wake up at 3 in the morning and think of something, I write it down. I can’t wait until morning – it’ll be gone.”
13. “I would rather write poems than prose, any day, any place. Yet each has its own force.”
14. “Writers sometimes give up what is most strange and wonderful about their writing – soften their roughest edges – to accommodate themselves toward a group response.”
15. “I’d rather write about polar bears than people.”
16. “People want poetry. They need poetry. They get it. They don’t want fancy work.”
People want poetry. They need poetry. They get it. They don’t want fancy work – Mary Oliver. #quotes #writing #poetry #fancy #work
17. “Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”
18. “I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary shouldn’t be in a poem.”
19. “As a child, what captivated me was reading the poems myself and realizing that there was a world without material substance which was nevertheless as alive as any other.”
20. “I worked privately, and sometimes I feel that might be better for poets than the kind of social workshop gathering. My school was the great poets: I read, and I read, and I read.”
21. “I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else.”
22. “I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now are – the sort of tap dance through it.”
23. “Almost anything is too much. I am trying in my poems to have the reader be the experiencer. I do not want to be there. It is not even a walk we take together.”
Mary Oliver, More Quotes & Sayings
1. “I love the line of Flaubert about observing things very intensely. I think our duty as writers begins not with our own feelings, but with the powers of observing.”
2. “Sometimes breaking the rules is extending the rules.”
3. “My parents didn’t care very much what I did, and that was probably a blessing.”
4. “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.”
5. “To find a new word that is accurate and different, you have to be alert for it.”
To find a new word that is accurate and different, you have to be alert for it – Mary Oliver. #quotes #word #accurate #different #alert
6. “Walks work for me. I enter some arena that is neither conscious or unconscious.”
7. “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.”
8. “I grew up in a confused house: too much-unwanted attention or none at all.”
9. “So this is how you swim inward. So this is how you flow outwards. So this is how you pray.”
10. “I very much wished not to be noticed, and to be left alone, and I sort of succeeded.”
11. “I was very careful never to take an interesting job. If you have an interesting job, you get interested in it.”
12. “I have a notion that if you are going to be spiritually curious, you better not get cluttered up with too many material things.”
I have a notion that if you are going to be spiritually curious, you better not get cluttered up with too many material things – Mary Oliver. #quotes #spiritually #curious #material #things
13. “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.”
14. “In college, you learn how to learn. Four years is not too much time to spend at that.”
15. “Apparently, I’ve been considered a recluse.”
16. “Because of the dog’s joyfulness, our own is increased. It is no small gift. It is not the least reason why we should honor as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born.”
17. “I had a very dysfunctional family and a very hard childhood. So I made a world out of words. And it was my salvation.”
If you would like to know more about the work of the brilliant Mary Oliver, we would suggest you read her award-winning book, American Primitive.
I was that odd, artsy girl in high school who sat cross-legged in the poetry section of Barnes and Noble. I’d grab a few of the best looking covers and pour over the words. Something in my chest would flicker like a lighter before the flame.
I can remember the first time I bought a Mary Oliver book at a little bookstore in San Francisco. I was 18 and read it cover to cover on my bed that night. It rattled my insides and verbalized truths I needed to hear. Since then I have reread Oliver’s books dozens of times, I have gifted them to countless friends, and quoted her on Instagram at a shockingly high volume. Most people don’t read poetry these days, but Mary Oliver seems to attract an audience that touches every diversity. Her deep sense of wonder, natural imagery, and accessible language invite readers from all walks of life to enter in.
If you need a little magic in your day, here are 20 Mary Oliver quotes to live by:
1. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”
2. “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.”
3. “I tell you this/ to break your heart, /by which I mean only/ that it break open and never close again/ to the rest of the world.”
4. “Listen – are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”
5. “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”
6. “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.”
7. “Keep some room in your heart for the Unimaginable”
8. “I simply do not distinguish between work and play.”
9. “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.”
10. “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
11. “Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”
12. “And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”
13. “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
14. “Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.”
15. “it is a serious thing /just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world.”
16. “But I also say this: that light is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness, when it’s done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive. ”
17. “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it…It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
18. “I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”
19. “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 is 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.”
20. “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’s Early Years
Born in 1935 in Maple Heights, Ohio, Oliver is the daughter of Helen M. V.and Edward William. Her father worked as an educator of sociology and an athletics coach in different institutions in Cleveland. Growing up in a semi-rural suburb, Oliver spent a great deal of her younger years reading, writing and walking around the woods. Her interest in nature would later become a major part of her life as a great poet.
Oliver’s interest in poetry began when she was a young 14-year-old student. Two years later, she had the chance to visit the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poetEdna St. Vincent Millay’s house in Austerlitz, New York.
She later formed a friendship with the acclaimed poet’s younger sister, Norma. Together, Oliver and Norma spent the next seven years at St. Vincent Millay’s home to organize the papers that once belonged to the poet.
Oliver pursued higher studies at Vassar College and Ohio State University in the mid-1950s, but she never received a degree from either institution.
Career and Honors Received
Oliver is famous for her poems about the natural world. While most of her works are about having a carpe diem attitude, they also touch on deeper themes such as gratitude, love, and survival.
At 28, Oliver published her first collection of poems entitled “No Voyage and Other Poems.” Although she became a teacher at Case Western Reserve University in the early 1980s, she did not let her profession keep her from doing creative work. She worked on more pieces until she was finally recognized by a major award-giving body.
1984 marked a defining moment in her career when her fifth poetry collection, “American Primitive,”emerged as the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She later became a Poet in Residence at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University in 1986. Five years later, Oliver worked as a Writer in Residence at Virginia’s Sweet Briar College.
As the years went by, Oliver gained more recognition for her artistic work. She received the the L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for her 1990 poem,“House of Light.” Her 1992 piece “New and Selected Poems (1992) was also given the National Book Award.
“The Best American Poetry” featured parts of her work, “Leaf and Cloud,” in both 1999 and 2000. Additionally, her essays made it to the 1996, 1998 and 2001 editions of “Best American Essays.”
Private and Unconventional Life
In the late 1950s, Oliver was on her way back to Austerlitz when she met Molly Malone Cook. The accomplished photographer became her partner for over forty years, until Malone succumbed to cancer in 2005.
Like most great artists, Oliver is notorious for being secretive about her private life. When she moved in with Malone, they decided to settle down in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The Cape Cod landscape surrounding their home played a huge part in Oliver’s later works, since it brought her much closer to nature.
Her poetry is known for its heart-tugging observations on the natural world, while still exploring larger themes about humanity.
Mary Oliver, the Reporter
Oliver is widely regarded as one of the best poets in history, but she does not consider herself as one. In a 2011 interview, she said she considers herself as a “reporter” who uses a string of words with a certain type of choreography.
She believes she is just an artist who gets up in the morning and writes ? treating words as if they were music that needs to have the right rhythm. Her style has led readers to compare her to Walt Whitman and Henry David Thoreau.
She also went through many struggles as a child because of her dysfunctional family. Oliver saw poetry as her refuge because she could build her own world out of her own words.
Mari Oliver: Later Years
Oliver served as a Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College before leaving her job in 2001. Apart from the major awards she received over the years, she was also offered fellowships by highly-regarded institutions.
Other accolades she received in the latter part of her career include the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award and the American Academy of Arts & Letters Award. She called Provincetown, Massachusetts home for more than fifty years before finally moving to her current residence in Hobe Sound, Florida.
Without a doubt, many artists have been influenced or changed by Oliver’s work. More individuals continue to be touched by her poignant pieces, making her one of the best literary icons in history.
Here are 30 inspiring quotes from Mary Oliver:
The Best Mary Oliver Quotes
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver
“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
“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” – Mary Oliver
“Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.” – Mary Oliver
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” – Mary Oliver
“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
“…If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.” – Mary Oliver
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” – Mary Oliver
“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” – Mary Oliver
“I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.” – Mary Oliver
“Listen-are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” – Mary Oliver
“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on.” – Mary Oliver
“This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” – Mary Oliver
“It is better for the heart to break, than not to break.” – Mary Oliver
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it.” – Mary Oliver
“I know many lives worth living.” – Mary Oliver
“Also I wanted to be able to love. And we all know how that one goes, don’t we? Slowly.” – Mary Oliver
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” – Mary Oliver
“But I also say this: that light is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness, when it’s done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive.” – Mary Oliver
“I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us…” – Mary Oliver
“Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.” – Mary Oliver
“Watch, now, how I start the day-in happiness, in kindness.” – Mary Oliver
“Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.” – Mary Oliver
“He is exactly the poem I wanted to write.” – Mary Oliver
“I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.” – Mary Oliver
“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything – other people, trees, clouds…” – Mary Oliver
“I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.” – Mary Oliver
“And now you’ll be telling stories of my coming back-and they won’t be false, and they won’t be true-but they’ll be real” – Mary Oliver
“It’s not a competition, it’s a doorway.” – Mary Oliver