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21 Mary Oliver Quotes about Nature, Beauty, Devotion, and Your Place in the World

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21 Mary Oliver Quotes about Nature, Beauty, Devotion, and Your Place in the World

Often called the most beloved poet in America, Mary Oliver was the first name I had in mind when I decided to read more poetry this year. Her deep sense of wonder, natural imagery, and simple language pulled me in; the solace I found in her words kept me there.

Oliver's body of work amounts to an instruction manual for how to love the world. For her, that story began with a walk in the woods.

In so much of her work, she uses nature to point to the sacred. Then she verbalizes truths you didn't know you had buried in you. And somehow, she makes you feel more comfortable being human.

It's no wonder she's one of the most celebrated and widely read American poets.

Still — reading poetry used to be something more people did, more often. Turns out, the poem requires more patience, sharper focus than what we're used to these days.

We're used to distractions.

We're so used to doing, we've forgotten about being.

The world seems to spin too fast for us to slow down, but slowing down is just the thing that would help us find our footing.

Like Oliver wrote, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.”

And this is exactly the reason for my self-prescribed daily dose of poetry: as Oliver herself put it, “I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

(I wanted to read Oliver beyond her most popular, so I started with Upstream: Selected Essays and A Thousand Mornings.)

For today's daily dose of poetry, beauty, and devotion, here's an incomplete collection of my favorite Mary Oliver quotes for you.

Pay attention...

This moment is your life, after all.

Often called the most beloved poet in America, Mary Oliver was the first name I had in mind when I decided to read more poetry this year. Her deep sense of wonder, natural imagery, and simple language pulled me in; the solace I found in her words kept me there.

21 Mary Oliver Quotes about Nature, Beauty, Devotion, and Your Place in the World

1. “It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world.” — Mary Oliver, Invitation

2. “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” — Mary Oliver, Yes! No!

3. “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 and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” — Mary Oliver, Upstream

4. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

5. “For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” — Mary Oliver, Upstream

6. “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, Sand Dabs, Five

7. “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” — Mary Oliver, It Was Early

8. “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, The Uses of Sorrow

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

10. “Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” — Mary Oliver, West Wind

11. “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, Wild Geese

12. “Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.” — Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

13. “Most mornings I’m up to see the sun, and that rising of the light moves me very much, and I’m used to thinking and feeling in words, so it sort of just happens. I think one thing is that prayer has become more useful, interesting, fruitful, and … almost involuntary in my life,” she says. “And when I talk about prayer, I mean really … what Rumi says in that wonderful line, ‘there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.'” — Mary Oliver

14. “Maybe the desire to make something beautiful is the piece of God that is inside each of us.” — Mary Oliver, Devotions

15. “You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

16. “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.” — Mary Oliver, Mysteries, Yes

17. “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 falling. And I do.” Mary Oliver, House of Light

18. “Keep some room in your heart for the Unimaginable.” — Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems

19. “Knowledge has entertained me and it has shaped me and it has failed me. Something in me still starves.”  Mary Oliver, Upstream

20. “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, When Death Comes

21. “Instructions for living a life.

    Pay attention.

    Be astonished.

    Tell about it.”

    Mary Oliver, Sometimes

    . . .

    Tell me:

    Which of these Mary Oliver quotes is your favorite right now?

    Tell me in the comments. I'd love to know which you love most!

    ~ Jen

    Often called the most beloved poet in America, Mary Oliver was the first name I had in mind when I decided to read more poetry this year. Her deep sense of wonder, natural imagery, and simple language pulled me in; the solace I found in her words kept me there.

    Comments on this post (6)

    • Jun 01, 2020

      #16, Mysteries

      But basically all of them!😷

      — Carolyn

    • May 27, 2020

      16 ❤️❤️
      20… wow. My favorite

      — Matsatsi Kgaladi

    • May 18, 2020

      Jen and Alli, you make me want to go outside and play too, but that was oh, so long ago. Enjoy every moment you can. That is a purposeful life.

      — Jim

    • May 06, 2020

      Alli, Mary Oliver is amazing! Her writing is so simple yet so rich at the same time. Reading her words is a reminder for me that being in nature among the simple things (like those things we used to do as kids!) is good for the soul, no matter how young or old you are. It’s not an escape from real life, but it IS life in its fullest. It is joy, connection, innocence, freedom… I miss it too! I think I’ll go outside now ;)

      — Jennifer Williamson

    • May 06, 2020

      “Love yourself, then forget it, then love the world” stands out as good advice. Thank you for sharing.

      — Jim

    • May 06, 2020

      How have I never heard of Mary Oliver?! Love these! Being in nature has always made me feel so good. I often think about all the I spent outdoors by myself when I was younger. I loved to go out in the rain, jump in puddles, play in little streams and find clay, ride my bike, or just lay in the grass and listen. Getting up crazy early to watch meteor showers, sitting by bonfires with family, the list goes on! I miss it!

      — Alli

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