Two Poems by Mary Oliver

Two pieces by Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning American poet Mary Oliver (1935) who is considered an “indefatigable guide to the natural world.” The first shows the littleness of human existence and activity before the vast expanse of nature. The second sees nature as a welcoming home full of ceaseless little delights.

From A Thousand Mornings:


A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver (2012, Penguin)

Sometimes I spend all day trying to count leaves on a single tree. To do this I have to climb branch by branch and write down the numbers in a little book. So I suppose, from their point of view it’s reasonable that my friends say: what foolishness! She’s got her head in the clouds again!


But it’s not. Of course I have to give up, but by then I am half crazy with the wonder of it – the abundance of the leaves, the quietness of the branches, the hopelessness of my effort. And I am in that delicious and important place, roaring with laughter, full of earth-praise.


“…in a little book.” (Photo: Pixabay)


Why I Wake Early: New Poems by Mary Oliver (2004, Beacon Press)

From Why I Wake Early:


There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long.


The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.


And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.


The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily,

out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing

from the unreachable top of the tree.


“…the goldfinches sing from the unreachable top of the tree.” (Photo: Pixabay)


I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.


Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around

as though with your arms open.


And thinking: maybe something will come, some

shining coil of wind,

or a few leaves from any old tree-

they are all in this too.


And now I will tell you the truth.

Everything in the world



At least, closer.

And, cordially.


Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed fish; the unlooping snake.

Like goldfinches, little dolls of gold

fluttering around the corner of the sky


of God, the blue air.

Other content on this blog that celebrates nature: the confessions of St. Augustine, the theories of John Ruskin, the paintings of Kevin Sloan, the collages of Ysabel LeMay.



One thought on “Two Poems by Mary Oliver

  1. I’m reminded of an Eagles song “Wasted Time”
    “And maybe some day we will find
    That it wasn’t really Wasted Time”


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