mary oliver quotes great big minds

Mary Oliver is a household name in the poetry world. She had a way of pulling us in with her deep sense of wonder, and natural imagery. We found solace in her words. In our busy world today, we always get carried away by activities. However, we compiled the best Mary Oliver quotes that will remind us to pause and take a breath, immerse ourselves in our surroundings as well as encourage us never to take anything for granted. 

Mary Oliver is a poet who wrote from the heart and close observation of the world. Before passing away in January 2019, the renowned poet touched several deep themes like love, life, and the beauty of nature. Her works could be best described as an instruction manual on how to truly live in the present.

Whether you knew Mary Oliver before her death or not, we hope that her quotes below will spark something in you. Enjoy!

108 Best Mary Oliver Quotes About Love, Life, And Beauty Of Nature Click To Tweet

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108 Best Mary Oliver Quotes About Love, Life, And Beauty Of Nature

  1. “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.” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
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  1. “Writing is neither vibrant life nor docile artifact but a text that would put all its money on the hope of suggestion.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
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  1. “So it is if the heart has devoted itself to love, there is not a single inch of emptiness. Gladness gleams all the way to the grave.” – Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2
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  1. “they won’t be false and they won’t be true, but hey’ll be real.” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
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  1. “I think there ought to be a little music here: hum, hum.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “I GO DOWN TO THE SHORE I go down to the shore in the morning and depending on the hour the waves are rolling in or moving out, and I say, oh, I am miserable, what shall— what should I do? And the sea says in its lovely voice: Excuse me, I have work to do.” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
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  1. “…even silence can feel, to the world, like happiness, like praise, from the pool of shade you have found beside the everlasting.” – Mary Oliver, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays
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  1. “There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life even, possibly, your own.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “…how the cold makes us dream!”- Mary Oliver, Blue Iris: Poems and Essays
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Read more: 108 Best Peter Pan Quotes About Flying, Growing Up, And Neverland

Best Mary Oliver quotes on challenges

  1. “The challenge is to keep up with all the new poets at the same time I love the old one.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “I always feel that whatever isn’t necessary shouldn’t be in a poem.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “Apparently, I’ve been considered a recluse.” –  Mary Oliver
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  1. “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
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  1. “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
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  1. “I very much wished not to be noticed, and to be left alone, and I sort of succeeded.” –  Mary Oliver
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  1. “I learn a lot about my poems when I read them by the way people respond to them.” –  Mary Oliver
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  1. “I would rather write poems than prose, any day, any place. Yet each has its own force.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “My first two books are out of print and, okay, they can sleep there comfortably. It’s early work, derivative work.” – Mary Oliver
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Best Mary Oliver quotes on life

  1. “I’d rather write about polar bears than people.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “To find a new word that is accurate and different, you have to be alert for it.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “I think one thing is that prayer has become more useful, interesting, fruitful, and… almost involuntary in my life.” – Mary Oliver
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  1. “I have the feeling that a lot of poets writing now are – they sort of tap dance through it.” –  Mary Oliver
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  1. “I like books that are fat and full.” –  Mary Oliver
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  1. “In college, you learn how to learn. Four years is not too much time to spend at that.” –  Mary Oliver
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  1. “At the time I was growing up, literature was involved with the so-called confessional poets. And I was not interested in that. I did not think that specific and personal perspective functioned well for the reader at all.” –  Mary Oliver
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  1. “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
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Best Mary Oliver quotes on aging

  1. “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
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  1. “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.” – Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
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  1. “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” – Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
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  1. “You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul. That worrier.” – Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems
  2. “Every night the owl with his wild monkey-face calls through the black branches, and the mice freeze and the rabbits shiver in the snowy fields— and then there is the long, deep trough of silence when he stops singing, and steps into the air.” – Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Volume One
  3. “I learned to build bookshelves and brought books to my room, gathering them around me thickly. I read by day and into the night. I thought about perfectibility, and deism, and adjectives, and clouds, and then foxes. I locked my door, from the inside, and leaped from the roof and went to the woods, by day or darkness.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  4. “Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  5. “… but he was unreachable. As music is present yet you can’t touch it…” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
  6. “Things take the time they take.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity

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Best Mary Oliver quotes about journey

  1. “When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive.” – Mary Oliver
  2. “Finally I was advertised on the hotline of help, and yet there I was, slopping along happily in the stream’s coolness. So maybe it was the right way after all. If this was lost, let us all be lost always.” –  Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  3. “I know several lives worth living.” – Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
  4. “There is the heaven we enter through institutional grace and there are the yellow finches bathing and singing in the lowly puddle.” – Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems
  5. “It is supposed that a writer writes what he knows about and knows well. It is not necessarily so. A writer’s subject may just as well, if not more likely, be what the writer longs for and dreams about, in an unquenchable dream, in lush detail and harsh honesty.” –  Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  6. “In his boat he went drinking and dreaming and singing then drowned as he reached for the moon’s reflection. Well, probably each of us, at some time, has been as desperate. Not the moon, though.”   Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems
“In his boat he went drinking and dreaming and singing then drowned as he reached for the moon's reflection. Well, probably each of us, at some time, has been as desperate. Not the moon, though.”   Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems Click To Tweet
  1. “The passionate hands of the sun” – Mary Oliver, Felicity
  2. “All important ideas must include the trees,the mountains, and the rivers.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity
  3. “I, too, have been forced to stand close to it, and have felt the almost muscular agony of impotence before it, unable to interfere or assuage or do anything effective. Though I do—oh yes I do—believe the soul is improvable. Oh sweet and defiant hope! 5” – Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems

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Best Mary Oliver quotes about nature

  1. “Song being born of quest he knows this: he must turn silent were he suddenly assaulted with answers. Instead oh hear his wild, caustic, tender warbling ceaselessly unanswered.” –  Mary Oliver
  2. “Reading, then writing, then desiring to write well, shaped in me that most joyful of circumstances—a passion for work.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  3. “I am burdened with anxiety. Anxiety for the lamb with his bitter future, anxiety for my own body, and, not least, anxiety for my own soul. You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul. That worrier.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  4. “If you can hear the trees in their easy hours of course you can also hear them later, crying out at the sawmill.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity
  5. “Not Anyone Who Says Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be careful and smart in matters of love,” who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,” but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all but were, as it were, chosen by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable and beautiful and possibly even unsuitable— only those know what I’m talking about in this talking about love.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems
  6. “Clouds have forms, porous and shape-shifting, bumptious, fleecy.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  7. “Except for the Body Except for the body of someone you love, including all its expressions in privacy and in public, trees, I think, are the most beautiful forms on the earth. Though, admittedly, if this were a contest, the trees would come in an extremely distant second.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems
“Except for the Body Except for the body of someone you love, including all its expressions in privacy and in public, trees, I think, are the most beautiful forms on the earth. Though, admittedly, if this were a contest, the trees… Click To Tweet
  1. “What is one to do with such moments, such memories, but cherish them? Who knows what is beyond the known? And if you think that any day the secret of light might come, would you not keep the house of your mind ready? Would you not cleanse your study of all that is cheap, or trivial? Would you not live in continual hope, and pleasure, and excitement?”  – Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems
  2. “Somewhere in the universe, in the gallery of important things, the babyish owl, ruffled and rakish, sits on its pedestal. Dear, dark dapple of plush! A message, reads the label, from that mysterious conglomerate: Oblivion and Co. The hooked head stares from its blouse of dark, feathery lace. It could be a valentine.” – Mary Oliver, House of Light

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Mary Oliver quotes about winter

  1. “There are moments that cry out to be fulfilled.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity
  2. “Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.” – Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
  3. “Whitman was after a joyfulness, a belief in existence in which man’s inner light is neither rare nor elite, but godly and common, and acknowledged. For that it was necessary to be rooted, again, in the world.” – Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems
  4. “let me be as urgent as a knife” – Mary Oliver
  5. “But living like this is for me the difference between a luminous life and a ho-hum life. So be it! With my whole heart, I live as I live. My affinity is to the whimsical, the illustrative, the suggestive—not to the factual or the useful. I walk, and I notice. I am sensual in order to be spiritual.”- 
  6. “In the beginning, I was so young and such a stranger to myself, I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it, hear it, and react to it before I knew it all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” – Mary Oliver
“In the beginning, I was so young and such a stranger to myself, I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it, hear it, and react to it before I knew it all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” – Mary Oliver Click To Tweet
  1. “The god of dirt came up to me many times and said so many wise and delectable things, I lay on the grass listening to his dog voice, crow voice, frog voice; now, he said, and now, and never once mentioned forever,” – Mary Oliver, Dream Work
  2. “For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple. Under the trees, along the pale slopes of sand, I walk in an ascendant relationship to rapture, and with words I celebrate this rapture. I see, and dote upon, the manifest.” – Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems
  3. “I know I can walk through the world, along the shore or under the trees, with my mind filled with things of little importance, in full self-attendance. A condition I can’t really call being alive.” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

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Best Mary Oliver quotes about life and aging

  1. “I’m older than I used to be, and therefore I understand things nobody would think of who’s young and a hurry.” –  Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2
  2. “To enjoy, to question—never to assume, or trample. Thus the great ones (my great ones, who may not be the same as your great ones) have taught me—to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always care-ingly.” – Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems
  3. “Poems arrive ready to begin. Poets are only the transportation.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems
  4. “Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still it explains nothing.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity
  5. “Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful fire! More room in your heart for love, for the trees! For the birds who own nothing—the reason they can fly.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems
“Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful fire! More room in your heart for love, for the trees! For the birds who own nothing—the reason they can fly.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems Click To Tweet
  1. “I think this is / the prettiest world—so long as you don’t mind / a little dying,” – Mary Oliver
  2. “The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems
  3. “I have refused to live locked in the orderly house of reasons and proofs. The world I live in and believe in is wider than that. And anyway, what’s wrong with Maybe?” – Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems
  4. “All I know is that “thank you” should appear somewhere. So, just in case I can’t find the perfect place – “Thank you, thank you.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity

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Best Mary Oliver quotes about the ice cold winter

  1. “When one is alone and lonely, the body gladly lingers in the wind or the rain, or splashes into the cold river, or pushes through the ice-crusted snow.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity: Poems
  2. “In creative work — creative work of all kinds — those who are the world’s working artists are not trying to help the world go around, but forward.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  3. “Things take the time they take. Don’t worry.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity
  4. “You must not ever stop being whimsical.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  5. “I was so full of energy. I was always running around, looking at this and that. If I stopped the pain was unbearable. If I stopped and thought, maybe the world can’t be saved, the pain was unbearable.” – Mary Oliver, Dream Work
“I was so full of energy. I was always running around, looking at this and that. If I stopped the pain was unbearable. If I stopped and thought, maybe the world can’t be saved, the pain was unbearable.” – Mary Oliver, Dream Work Click To Tweet
  1. “THE DISTINCTION and particular value of anything, or any person, inevitably must alter according to the time and place from which we take our view.” –  Mary Oliver, Long Life: Essays and Other Writings
  2. “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, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
  3. “A few voices, strict and punctilious, like Shelley’s, like Thoreau’s, cry out: Change! Change! But most don’t say that; they simply say: Be what you are, of the earth, but a dreamer too. Teilhard de Chardin was not talking about how to escape anguish, but about how to live with it.” – Mary Oliver, Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems
  4. “We did not know she was sick, but she has come to the fence, walking like a woman who is balancing a sword inside of her body.” – Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Volume One

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Mary Oliver quotes about education

  1. “The different and the novel are sweet, but regularity and repetition are also teachers.” –  Mary Oliver
  2. “When it’s 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, New and Selected Poems, Volume One: 1
  3. “Or, how sweet just to say of a great, burly man: he’s a honey.” – Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
  4. “who knows what it dreamed of in the first springs of its life, escaping the cottontail’s teeth and everything dangerous else. Who knows when supreme patience took hold, and the wind’s wandering among its leaves was enough of motion, of travel.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  5. “Do you think there is anything not attached by its unbreakable cord to everything else?” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  6. “So maybe it was the right way after all. If this was lost, let us all be lost always.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
“So maybe it was the right way after all. If this was lost, let us all be lost always.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays Click To Tweet
  1. “Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch? Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?” – Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2
  2. “I know a lot of fancy words. I tear them from my heart and my tongue. Then I pray.” – Mary Oliver, Devotions:” – The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
  3. “the sunflowers themselves far more wonderful than any words about them.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  4. “What does barbed wire feel like when you grip it, as though it were a plate and a fork, or a handful of flowers?” – Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Volume One
  5. “What you have never noticed about the toad, probably … his front feet, which are sometimes padded, hold three nimble digits – had anyone a piano small enough I think the toad could learn to play something, a little Mozart maybe” – Mary Oliver, Why I Wake Early
  6. “Brevity would have made the whole thing ineffectual, for what Whitman is after is felt experience. Experience only, he understands, is the successful persuader.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  7. “Results for “Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
  8. Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?” –  Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2
  9. “Inside every mind, there’s a hermit’s cave full of light.” – Mary Oliver
  10. “Who would cry out to the petals on the ground to stay, knowing as we must, how the vivacity of what was is married to the vivacity of what will be?” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
  11. “What good does it do to lie all day in the sun loving what is easy?” –  Mary Oliver, Dream Work
  12. “Things! Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful fire! More room in your heart for love, for the trees! For the birds who own nothing—the reason they can fly. FOR TOM SHAW S.S.J.E.” –  Mary Oliver, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver
  13. “As music is present yet you can’t touch it.” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
  14. “One learns by thinking about writing, and by talking about writing-but primarily through writing.” – Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
  15. “What does it mean… that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it?” –  Mary Oliver
  16. “A poem on the page speaks to the listening mind.” – Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
  17. “Especially when writers are just starting out, the emphasis should be not only upon what they write, but equally upon the process of writing. A successful class is a class where no one feels that ‘writer’s block’ is a high-priority subject.” – Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook
  18. “Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude? Have I endured loneliness with grace?” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
“Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude? Have I endured loneliness with grace?” – Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings Click To Tweet
  1. “You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” – Mary Oliver, Upstream: Selected Essays
  2. “Late, late, but now lovely and lovelier. And the two of us, together—a part of it.” – Mary Oliver, Felicity
  3. “Though I play at the edges of knowing, truly I know our part is not knowing, but looking, and touching, and loving, which is the way I walked on, softly, through the pale-pink morning light.” – Mary Oliver

Which of these Mary Oliver quotes stuck with you the most?

We are used to distractions, no matter how much we try to downplay them. The noise from social media, the hustle and bustle to stay relevant in society prevent us from truly living. We are just moving like a bunch of robots, flowing with the trends, isn’t it high time to put our foot to the ground and breath?

Pause, look around, and savor your surroundings, focus on moments no matter the occasion, whether it is joyous, quiet, or sad. Let go of your future worries and past regrets and immerse yourself with the wonders of the world like the sound of the rain falling, birds singing, tree branches swinging from side to side, the sound of a baby’s chuckle, and a host of other. Truly, life is full of magic waiting to be unveiled only if you develop the right perspective.

We are curious to know which of these Mary Oliver quotes stuck out to you. Tell us in the comment section. 

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