Skip to main content

Mary Oliver


The Lilies Break Open Over The Dark Water

Inside  that mud-hive, that gas-sponge,   that reeking    leaf-yard, that rippling dream-bowl, the leeches'  flecked and swirling   broth of life, as rich    as Babylon, the fists crack  open and the wands   of the lilies   [...]

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

"Make of yourself a light," said the Buddha, before he died. I think of this every morning as the east begins to tear off its many clouds of darkness, to send up the first signal—a white fan streaked with pink and violet, even green. An o [...]

White Pine

    The sun rises late in this Southern county. And, since the first thing I do when I wake up is go out into the world, I walk here along a dark road. There are many trees. Also, shrubs and vines—sumac, the ivies, honeysuckle. I walk between two [...]


There isn't anything in this world but mad love. Not in this world. No tame love, calm love, mild love, no so-so love. And of course, no reasonable love. There are a hundred paths through the world that are easier. But, who wants easier? We dream of [...]

A Death

Afterwards the cheerful birds still woke me—bands of crows blaring, and the darling sparrows chirping for their lives. Somebody had died. Somebody was not out there in the yellow fields, trudging and talking. At the cemetery a flock of geese flew [...]

The River

In one day the Amazon discharges into the Atlantic the equivalent of New York City's water supply for nine years. Just because I was born precisely here or there, in some cold city or other, don't think I don't remember how I came along like a grain [...]

White Night

All night  I float    in the shallow ponds     while the moon wanders burning,  bone white,    among the milky stems.     Once I saw her hand reach  to touch the muskrat's    small sleek head     and it was lovely, oh, I don't want [...]


1 When death carts me off to the bottomlands, when I begin the long work of rising— Death, whoever and whatever you are, tallest king of tall kings, grant me these wishes: unstring my bones; let me be not one thing but all things, and wondrousl [...]

Three Prose Poems

 1 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! [...]

A Bitterness

I believe you did not have a happy life. I believe you were cheated. I believe your best friends were loneliness and misery, I believe your busiest enemies were anger and depression. I believe joy was a game you could never play without stumbling. I [...]


In spring the blue azures bow down at the edges of shallow puddles to drink the black rainwater. Then they rise and float away into the fields. Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy, and all the tricks my body knows— the opposable thum [...]

The Pinewoods

This morning  two deer   in the pinewoods,    in the five a.m. mist, in a silky agitation,  went leaping   down into the shadows    of the bog and together  across the bog   and up the hill    and into the dense trees— but once, [...]

When Death Comes

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-blade [...]