Mary Oliver poet

Mary Oliver, who died on Jan. 17, was a poet worth remembering, writes Jay Gilbertson.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019): Bestselling Poet, Winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

“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.”

The main theme the late Oliver shares is her abiding love and deep regard for the natural world. It is the fabric she prefers to lay her words on and wrap them up in and where she always found not only peace, but understanding of the importance of taking time to truly smell, touch and honor the earth.

Though she has penned hundreds of poems, here are a few that I found especially notable.

She also wrote many nature-themed essays but gave very few interviews feeling that her work could speak for itself.

She was a New York Times bestselling poet with a wise and generous wisdom and an intimate respect for the world not of our making.

Here are a few examples of her work.

Mornings At Blackwater

For years, every morning, I drank

From Blackwater Pond.

It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,

The feet of ducks.

And always it assuaged me

from the dry bowl of the very far past.

What I want to say is

that the past is the past,

and the present is what your life is,

and you are capable

of choosing what that will be,

darling citizen.

So come to the pond,

or the river of your imagination,

or the harbor of your longing,

and put your lips to the world.

And live

your life.


It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

Three Things To Remember

As long as you’re dancing, you can

break the rules.

Sometimes breaking the rules is just

extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

For many, poetry has to rhyme, for others it has to adhere to a particular structure or have a certain word count and the variety of forms have accumulated over time.

For Mary Oliver it had to express her observations of the natural world and perhaps she said it best, “When you write a poem, you write it for anybody and everybody.”

  • MORE has many of her collections
  • Poetry tells a story
  • What’s your poem?

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Jay Gilbertson is the Wisconsin author of The Madeline Island Series. His website is www.jaygilbertson.com; “Like” him on Facebook, too. Feel free to contact Jay at jay@jaygilbertson.com.


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