12 Mary Oliver Poems That You Will Never Be Able To Forget

by E. Ce Miller
Jacqui Miller/Stocksy

National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Mary Oliver died Thursday, at age 83. If you know Mary Oliver’s writing, you probably know "The Kingfisher." I don’t know what it is, exactly, about this particular poem. In the scope of a lifelong poetic career — one made up of poems focused on the quiet but constant motion of the natural world, on the simple gestures of eating and drinking and living — anyone even remotely familiar with Mary Oliver seems to remember a high school writing exercise or a college essay question about a poem that is, basically, a couple dozen lines about a bird eating a fish. Of course, in Oliver’s telling, it’s magic.

“The kingfisher rises out of the black wave / like a blue flower, in his beak / he carries a silver leaf,” wrote Oliver. “I think this is / the prettiest world — so long as you don't mind / a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life / that doesn't have its splash of happiness?”

They’re pretty good words to be remembered by, if you ask me. Here are a few more. These are 12 poems to remember Mary Oliver by.

"Forty Years"

"for forty years
the sheets of white paper have
passed under my hands and I have tried
to improve their peaceful
emptiness putting down
little curls little shafts
of letters words
little flames leaping..."

Read in full here.


"Understand, I am always trying to figure out
what the soul is,
and where hidden,
and what shape"

Read in full here.

"Wild Geese"

"You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting."

Read in full here.

"The Swan"

"Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?..."

Read in full here.


"The female, and two chicks,
each no bigger than my thumb,
in their pale-green dresses;
then they rose, tiny fireworks,
into the leaves
and hovered;"

Read in full here.

"The Mango"

"One evening
I met the mango.
At first there were four or five of them
in a bowl.
They looked like stones you find
in the rivers of Pennsylvania
when the waters are low."

Read in full here.


"I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!"

Read in full here.

"The Shark"

"The domed head rose above the water, white
as a spill of milk. It had taken the hook. It swirled,
and all they could see then was the grinding
and breaking of water, its thrashing, the teeth
in the grin and grotto of its impossible mouth..."

Read in full here.

"The Real Prayers Are Not The Words, But The Attention That Comes First"

"The little hawk leaned sideways and, tilted,
rode the wind. Its eye at this distance looked
like green glass; its feet were the color
of butter. Speed, obviously, was joy."

Read in full here.

"Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?"

"Don't call this world adorable, or useful, that's not it.
It's frisky, and a theater for more than fair winds."

Read in full here.

"The Kingfisher"

I think this is
the prettiest world--so long as you don't mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn't have its splash of happiness?...

Read in full here.

"Sleeping in the Forest"

"I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds."

Read in full here.