20 Mary Oliver Quotes That Teach You Everything You Need To Know About Life

The Power of Mary Oliver’s Words

My obsession with writing began with poetry in grade school. I cherished my hardcover copy of The Complete Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh with its beautifully illustrated dust jacket. All of my favorite characters danced across the pages pulling me into the magic of the musical words. I was so enamored that one year I even memorized and recited the poem “Sneezles” when my school held a poetry-reading contest. And so I decided to try my own hand at the art of Poetry.

It wasn’t until I was in college that my writing began to mature from singsongy love poems to something more meaningful—the credit for my evolution belonging firmly to the gifted poetesses I was reading. Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver, Sharon Olds, and Joy Harjo all showed me how valuable a woman’s voice in written word could be.

I went from sweetly reciting “Sneezles” in front of a room of 5th graders to boldly acting out Miss Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” in front of an audience of graduating seniors in University.  And while I would say that it was Maya Angelou who solidified my passion for poetry, it was Mary Oliver who changed—and perhaps saved— my life with a single poem.

Mary Oliver & Becoming a Woman

Being a woman is hard, but becoming a woman is even harder. Becoming a woman is beast even if you are a girl who has everything going for you and the fortune of avoiding the many pitfalls along the path of maturity.

I was a survivor long before I was close to becoming a woman, and my growth was slow, difficult, and messy as hell. I just couldn’t figure out how to move forward without fixing the past, so in the past I stayed and struggled.

Then, one day someone read these words to me.

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.

The first lines from Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”. I devoured the poem over and over and over and over. It was the truth. I could feel it.  And like the voice of a wise mother or grandmother, it gave me permission I needed to move on.

So I did.

My Mary Oliver story isn’t unique. She touched so many women’s lives (and men’s too, I’m sure.) But her voice, I think, is the voice of the guiding Mother so many of us need. She loved the world simply and perfectly. She loved life, and she understood how to live it .

The world lost Mary Oliver yesterday, and her absence must be acknowledged. But how lucky are we all that Mary left so much of her wisdom behind for us to absorb? I want to share some of my favorite Mary Oliver quotes. You will see that within them you find a bit of everything you need to know about how to truly live and leave life.

The following are 20 Mary Oliver quotes that tell you everything you need to know about life and living.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

“Every morning I walk like this around the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart ever close, I am as good as dead.” ― 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

Mary Oliver

“Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.” —Mary Oliver

“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

“So this is how you swim inward. So this is how you flow outwards. So this is how you pray.” — Mary Oliver

“Listen—are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” ― Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver

“A dog can never tell you what she knows from the smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know almost nothing.” ― Mary Oliver

“We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it.” ― Mary Oliver

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” ― 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?” ― Mary Oliver

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those who think they have the answers.” —Mary Oliver

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

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” ― Mary Oliver

“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.” ― Mary Oliver

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

Mary Oliver

Then, go to sleep. Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.” ― Mary Oliver

“I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.” ― Mary Oliver

“Maybe death isn’t darkness, after all, but so much light wrapping itself around us.” —Mary Oliver

“What misery to be afraid of death. What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.” ― Mary Oliver

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