Mary Oliver is known as one of the greatest American poets of the 20th century. Her best-selling poems reflect on her poignant observations and meaningful insights gained from her experiences in nature.
Oliver’s work isn’t just an appreciation for nature. Her greatness lies in her insights into how humans fit into the natural world.
Oliver passed away in 2019 at the age of 83, but her words live on. She continues to inspire poets and writers around the world.
Here are a few of the most inspiring Mary Oliver quotes about life, love, and nature.
40 Best Mary Oliver Quotes
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.
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.
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.
And now I understand something so frightening & wonderful — how the mind clings to the road it knows, rushing through crossroads, sticking like lint to the familiar.
I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it breaks open and never closes again to the rest of the world.
Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.
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.
Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it
Listen — are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.
I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.
Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
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’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.
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.
I very much wished not to be noticed, and to be left alone, and I sort of succeeded.
Walks work for me. I enter some arena that is neither conscious or unconscious.
You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul.
Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.
Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.
Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do With your one wild and precious life?
Snow was falling, so much like stars filling the dark trees that one could easily imagine its reason for being was nothing more than prettiness.
The stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own.
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.
Love, love, love, says Percy. And hurry as fast as you can along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust. Then, go to sleep. Give up your body heat, your beating heart. Then, trust.
I know many lives worth living.
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.
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’s not a competition, it’s a doorway.
I feel the terror of idleness, like a red thirst. Death isn’t just an idea.
Far off in the red mangroves an alligator has heaved himself onto a hummock of grass and lies there, studying his poems.
For some things, there are no wrong seasons. Which is what I dream of for me.
We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.
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.
There are a hundred paths through the world that are easier than loving. But, who wants easier?
Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking, and touching, and loving.
After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world.
You are young. So you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But, listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
You too can be carved anew by the details of your devotion.
What Is Your Favorite Mary Oliver Quote?
Which Mary Oliver quote inspires you the most? Share your favorite in the comments!