151+ Best Mary Oliver Quotes: Exclusive Selection

Mary Jane Oliver was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work reflects a deep communion with the natural world. Inspirational Mary Oliver quotes will encourage you to think a little deeper than you usually would and broaden your perspective.

If you’re searching for quotes by famous poets that perfectly capture what you’d like to say or just want to feel inspired yourself, browse through an amazing collection of profound Hermann Hesse quotes, amazing Atticus quotes and top Langston Hughes quotes.

Famous Mary Oliver Quotes

I think one thing is that prayer has become more useful, interesting, fruitful, and… almost involuntary in my life. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? 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. Instructions for living a life: pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. – Mary Oliver

I don’t ask for the sights in front of me to change, only the depth of my seeing. – Mary Oliver

I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable and beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings. – Mary Oliver

A lifetime isn’t long enough for the beauty of this world and the responsibilities of your life. – Mary Oliver

Wild sings the bird of the heart in the forests of our lives. – Mary Oliver

Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance. – Mary Oliver

Don’t we all die someday and someday comes all too soon? What will you do with your own wild, glorious chance at this thing we call life. – Mary Oliver

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time. – Mary Oliver

Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going. – Mary Oliver

When will you have a little pity for every soft thing that walks through the world, yourself included. – Mary Oliver

Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking, and touching, and loving – Mary Oliver

I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything – other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion – that standing within this otherness – the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books – can re-dignify the worst-stung heart. – Mary Oliver

Why I Wake Early Hello, sun in my face. Hello, you who made the morning and spread it over the fields and into the faces of the tulips and the nodding morning glories, and into the windows of, even, the miserable and the crotchety – best preacher that ever was, dear star, that just happens to be where you are in the universe to keep us from ever-darkness, to ease us with warm touching, to hold us in the great hands of light – good morning, good morning, good morning. Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness. – Mary Oliver

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 river bed, 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. – Mary Oliver

I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it breaks open and never close again to the rest of the world. – Mary Oliver

Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished. – Mary Oliver

It is the nature of stone to be satisfied. It is the nature of water to want to be somewhere else. – Mary Oliver

I believe art is utterly important. It is one of the things that could save us. We don’t have to rely totally on experience if we can do things in our imagination…. It’s the only way in which you can live more lives than your own. You can escape your own time, your own sensibility, your own narrowness of vision. – Mary Oliver

As long as you’re dancing, you can break the rules. – Mary Oliver

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work. – Mary Oliver

He is exactly the poem I wanted to write. – Mary Oliver

Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life? – Mary Oliver

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever you are, to look for your soul? – Mary Oliver

We can know a lot. And still, no doubt, there are rash and wonderful ideas brewing somewhere; there are many surprises yet to come. – Mary Oliver

The stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own. – Mary Oliver

I saw that worrying had come to nothing and gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang. – Mary Oliver

Sometimes I spend all day trying to count the leaves on a single tree… Of course, I have to give up, but by then I’m half-crazy with the wonder of it–the abundance of the leaves, the quietness of the branches, the hopelessness of my effort. And I am in that delicious and important place, roaring with laughter, full of earth-praise. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

It’s morning, and again I am that lucky person who is in it. – Mary Oliver

Invention hovers always a little above the rules. – Mary Oliver

Praying 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. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled-to cast aside the weight of facts and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery. 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 fading. And I do. – Mary Oliver

Do you love this world? Do you cherish your humble and silky life? Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath? Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden, and softly, and exclaiming of their dearness, fill your arms with the white and pink flowers, with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, their eagerness to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever? – Mary Oliver

We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it. – Mary Oliver

All eternity is in the moment. – Mary Oliver

I held my breath as we do sometimes to stop time when something wonderful has touched us. – Mary Oliver

Look, I want to love this world as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get to be alive and know it. – Mary Oliver

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination. – Mary Oliver

And I say to my heart: rave on. – Mary Oliver

There are things you can’t reach. But You can reach out to them, and all day long. The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of god. And it can keep you busy as anything else, and happier. I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. Looking I mean not just standing around but standing around As though with your arms open. – Mary Oliver

Each body is a lion of courage, something precious of the earth. – Mary Oliver

Every day I walk out into the world / to be dazzled, then to be reflective. – 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

Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. – Mary Oliver

I would say that there exists a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and our chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves-we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together, we are each other’s destiny. – Mary Oliver

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 well as love the dog of our own life, and the dog down the street, and all the dogs not yet born. What would the world be like without music or rivers or the green and tender grass? What would this world be like without dogs? – Mary Oliver

Hello, sun in my face. Hello, you who made the morning and spread it over the fields…Watch, now, how I start the day in happiness, in kindness. – Mary Oliver

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. 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. – Mary Oliver

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. – 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

Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers. Let me keep company always with those who say “Look!” and laugh in astonishment and bow their heads. (from “Mysteries, Yes”) – Mary Oliver

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed. – Mary Oliver

In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love and the ability to question. Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable. – Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew what you had to do and began. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life. – Mary Oliver

The dream of my life is to lie down by a slow river and stare at the light in the trees – to learn something by being nothing – Mary Oliver

Around me the trees stir in their leaves and call out, Stay awhile. – Mary Oliver

We shake with joy; we shake with grief. What a time they have, these two housed as they are in the same body. – Mary Oliver

I believe in kindness. Also, in mischief. Also, in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed. – Mary Oliver

There are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But who wants easier? – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

So, this is how you swim inward. So, this is how you flow outwards. So, this is how you pray. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

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

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. – Mary Oliver

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

I was very careful never to take an interesting job. If you have an interesting job, you get interested in it. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

I very much wished not to be noticed, and to be left alone, and I sort of succeeded. – Mary Oliver

Walks work for me. I enter some arena that is neither conscious or unconscious. – Mary Oliver

I simply do not distinguish between work and play. – Mary Oliver

To find a new word that is accurate and different, you have to be alert for it. – Mary Oliver

In college, you learn how to learn. Four years is not too much time to spend at that. – Mary Oliver

Writers sometimes give up what is most strange and wonderful about their writing – soften their roughest edges – to accommodate themselves toward a group response. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

People want poetry. They need poetry. They get it. They don’t want fancy work. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

My first two books are out of print and, okay, they can sleep there comfortably. It’s early work, derivative work. – Mary Oliver

One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

I worked probably 25 years by myself, just writing and working, not trying to publish much, not giving readings. – Mary Oliver

There is nothing better than work. Work is also play; children know that. Children play earnestly as if it were work. But people grow up, and they work with a sorrow upon them. It’s duty. – Mary Oliver

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. – Mary Oliver

What can we dobut keep on breathing in and out, modest and willing, and in our places? – Mary Oliver

You have to be in the world to understand what the spiritual is about, and you have to be spiritual in order to truly be able to accept what the world is about. – Mary Oliver

I’ve always wanted to write poems and nothing else. – Mary Oliver

Children play earnestly as if it were work. But people grow up, and they work with a sorrow upon them. It’s duty. – Mary Oliver

Poetry is one of the original arts, and it began, as did all the fine arts, within the original wilderness of the earth. – Mary Oliver

In my own work, I usually revise through forty or fifty drafts of a poem before I begin to feel content with it. – Mary Oliver

A mind that is lively and inquiring, compassionate, curious, angry, full of music, full of feeling, is a mind full of possible poetry. – Mary Oliver

But how did you come burning down like a wild needle, knowing just where my heart was? – Mary Oliver

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable. I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours. Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. – Mary Oliver

Like Magellan, let us find our islands To die in, far from home, from anywhere Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places, Lest we go down in comfort, and despair. – Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood. How grass can be nourishing in the mouths of the lambs. How rivers and stones are forever in allegiance with gravity while we ourselves dream of rising. – Mary Oliver

The language of the poem is the language of particulars. – Mary Oliver

I wanted the past to go away, I wanted to leave it, like another country; I wanted my life to close, and open like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song where it falls down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery; I wanted to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know, whoever I was, I was alive for a little while. – Mary Oliver

Emerson, I am trying to live, as you said we must, the examined life. But there are days I wish there was less in my head to examine, not to speak of the busy heart. – Mary Oliver

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? – Mary Oliver

from the complications of loving you i think there is no end or return. no answer, no coming out of it. which is the only way to love, isn’t it? this isn’t a playground, this is earth, our heaven, for a while. therefore i have given precedence to all my sudden, sullen, dark moods that hold you in the center of my world. and i say to my body: grow thinner still. and i say to my fingers, type me a pretty song. and i say to my heart: rave on. – Mary Oliver

After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world. – Mary Oliver

Along with the differences that abide in each of us, there is also in each of us a maverick, the darling stubborn one who won’t listen, who insists, who chooses preference or the spirited guess over yardsticks or even history. I suspect this maverick is somewhat what the soul is, or at least that the soul lives close by and companionably with its agitating and inquiring force. – Mary Oliver

Look for verbs of muscle, adjectives of exactitude. – Mary Oliver

The three ingredients of poetry: the mystery of the universe, spiritual curiosity, the energy of language. – Mary Oliver

Everybody has to have their little tooth of power. Everybody wants to be able to bite. – Mary Oliver

It was not a choice of writing or not writing. It was a choice of loving my life or not loving my life. To keep writing was always a first priority. I worked probably 25 years by myself…. Just writing and working, not trying to publish much. Not giving readings. A longer time than people really are willing to commit before they want to go public. – Mary Oliver

Oh, yesterday, that one, we all cry out. Oh, that one! How rich and possible everything was! How ripe, ready, lavish, and filled with excitement–how hopeful we were on those summer days, under the clean, white racing clouds. Oh, yesterday! – Mary Oliver

The man who has many answers is often found in the theaters of information where he offers, graciously, his deep findings. While the man who has only questions, to comfort himself, makes music. – Mary Oliver

The poet dreams of the classroom I dreamed I stood up in class And I said aloud: Teacher, Why is algebra important? Sit down, he said. Then I dreamed I stood up And I said: Teacher, I’m weary of the turkeys That we have to draw every fall. May I draw a fox instead? Sit down, he said. Then I dreamed I stood up once more and said: Teacher, My heart is falling asleep And it wants to wake up. It needs to be outside. Sit down, he said. – Mary Oliver

Tom Dancer’s gift of a whitebark pine cone You never know What opportunity Is going to travel to you, Or through you. Once a friend gave me A small pine cone- One of a few He found in the scat Of a grizzly In Utah maybe, Or Wyoming. I took it home And did what I supposed He was sure I would do- I ate it, Thinking How it had traveled Through that rough And holy body. It was crisp and sweet. It was almost a prayer Without words. My gratitude, Tom Dancer, For this gift of the world I adore so much And want to belong to. And thank you too, great bear – Mary Oliver

On the beach, at dawn: Four small stones clearly Hugging each other. How many kinds of love Might there be in the world, And how many formations might they make And who am I ever To imagine I could know Such a marvelous business? When the sun broke It poured willingly its light Over the stones That did not move, not at all, Just as, to its always generous term, It shed its light on me, My own body that loves, Equally, to hug another body. – Mary Oliver

I know death is the fascinating snake under the leaves, sliding and sliding; I know the heart loves him too, can’t turn away, can’t break the spell. Everything wants to enter the slow thickness, aches to be peaceful finally and at any cost. Wants to be stone. – Mary Oliver

Life is much the same when it’s going well– resonant and unremarkable. But who, not under disaster’s seal, can understand what life is like when it begins to crumble? – Mary Oliver

Poetry is a river; many voices travel in it; poem after poem moves along in the exciting crests and falls of the river waves. None is timeless; each arrives in an historical context; almost everything, in the end, passes. But the desire to make a poem, and the world’s willingness to receive it–indeed the world’s need of it–these never pass. – Mary Oliver

Poetry is a serious business; literature is the apparatus through which the world tries to keep intact its important ideas and feelings. – Mary Oliver

With words, I could build a world I could live in. I had a very dysfunctional family, and a very hard childhood. So I made a world out of words. And it was my salvation. – Mary Oliver

And it is exceedingly short, his galloping life. Dogs die so soon. I have my stories of that grief, no doubt many of you do also. It is almost a failure of will, a failure of love, to let them grow old-or so it feels. We would do anything to keep them with us, and to keep them young. The one gift we cannot give. – Mary Oliver

All my life I have been restless– I have felt there is something more wonderful than gloss– than wholeness– than staying at home. – Mary Oliver

Do you cherish your humble and silky life? – Mary Oliver

I took one look and fell, hook and tumble. – Mary Oliver

A poet’s interest in craft never fades, of course. – Mary Oliver

We do not love anything more deeply than we love a story. – Mary Oliver

Every adjective and adverb is worth five cents. Every verb is worth fifty cents. – Mary Oliver

There is a notion that creative people are absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social customs and obligations. It is, hopefully, true for they are in another world altogether. – Mary Oliver

When it’s over I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real…. – Mary Oliver

All culture developed as some wild, raw creature strived to live better and longer. – Mary Oliver

A fact: one picks it up and reads it, and puts it down, and there is an end to it. But an idea! That one may pick up, and reflect upon, and oppose, and expand, and so pass a delightful afternoon altogether. – Mary Oliver

Language is, in other words, not necessary, but voluntary. If it were necessary, it would have stayed simple; it would not agitate our hearts with ever-present loveliness and ever-cresting ambiguity; it would not dream, on its long white bones, of turning into song. – Mary Oliver

But the owls themselves are not hard to find, silent and on the wing, with their ear tufts flat against their heads as they fly and their huge wings alternately gliding and flapping as they maneuver through the trees. Athena’s owl of wisdom and Merlin’s companion, Archimedes, were screech owls surely, not this bird with the glassy gaze, restless on the bough, nothing but blood on its mind. – Mary Oliver

Who do you want to be in your one wild and precious life? – Mary Oliver

Come with me into the woods where spring is advancing, as it does, no matter what, not being singular or particular, but one of the forever gifts, and certainly visible. – Mary Oliver

The sea isn’t a place but a fact, and a mystery. – Mary Oliver

LITTLE DOGS RHAPSODY IN THE NIGHT (PERCY THREE) He puts his cheek against mine and makes small, expressive sounds. And when I’m awake, or awake enough he turns upside down, his four paws in the air and his eyes dark and fervent. Tell me you love me, he says. Tell me again. Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over he gets to ask it. I get to tell. – Mary Oliver

I try to be good but sometimes a person just has to break out and act like the wild and springy thing one used to be. It’s impossible not to remember wild an want it back. – Mary Oliver

For some things there are no wrong seasons. Which is what I dream of for me. – Mary Oliver

Every spring I hear the thrush singing in the glowing woods he is only passing through. His voice is deep, then he lifts it until it seems to fall from the sky. I am thrilled. I am grateful. Then, by the end of morning, he’s gone, nothing but silence out of the tree where he rested for a night. And this I find acceptable. Not enough is a poor life. But too much is, well, too much. Imagine Verdi or Mahler every day, all day. It would exhaust anyone. – Mary Oliver

Isn’t it wonderful the way the world holds both the deeply serious, and the unexpectedly mirthful? – Mary Oliver

I want to write something so simply about love or about pain that even as you are reading you feel it and as you read you keep feeling it and though it be my story it will be common, though it be singular it will be known to you so that by the end you will think— no, you will realize— that it was all the while yourself arranging the words, that it was all the time words that you yourself, out of your heart had been saying. – Mary Oliver

And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier. – Mary Oliver

This is the first, wildest, and wisest thing I know, that the soul exists, and that it is built entirely out of attention. – Mary Oliver

Can one be passionate about the just, the ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit no labor in its cause? I don’t think so. All summations have a beginning, all effect has a story, all kindness beings with the sown seed. Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of light is the crossroads of – indolence, or action. Be ignited or be gone. – Mary Oliver

I want to believe I am looking into the white fire of a great mystery. – Mary Oliver

I wanted to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know, whoever I was, I was alive for a little while. – Mary Oliver

I don’t know lots of things, but I know this: next year when spring flows over the starting point I’ll think I’m going to drown in the shimmering miles of it. – Mary Oliver

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