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What Do We Know

4.32  ·  Rating Details  ·  373 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
"Mary Oliver's poetry is fine and deep; it reads like a blessing," wrote Stanley Kunitz many years ago; and recently, Rita Dove described her last volume, The Leaf and the Cloud, as "a brilliant meditation." For the many admirers of Mary Oliver's dazzling poetry and luminous vision, as well as for those who may be coming to her work for the first time, What Do We Know will ...more
Paperback, 88 pages
Published March 27th 2003 by Da Capo Press (first published 2002)
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Jul 05, 2011 Meitha rated it it was amazing
This is my fave Mary Oliver's poem:

Now Are the Rough Things Smooth

Now are the rough things smooth, and the smooth things stand in flickering slats, facing the slow tarnish of sun-fall. Summer is over, or nearly. And therefore the green is not green anymore but yellow, beige, russet, rust; all the darknesses are beginning to settle in. And therefore why pray to permanence, why not pray to impermanence, to change, to -- whatever comes next. Willingness is next to godliness. Once I watched a swallo
May 29, 2012 Kristina rated it it was amazing
I have several favorites from this book- The Hummingbird (It's morning, and again I am that lucky person who is in it.); Blue Iris (And my heart panics not to be, as I long to be, the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.); and Snowy Night (I just stood there, listening and holding out my hands to the soft glitter falling through the air. I love this world, but not for its answers.).
Cynthia Egbert
May 10, 2016 Cynthia Egbert rated it liked it
Shelves: library
I was going to say that I didn't love this one as much as some of her other volumes but then I noticed how many of the poems I marked to reference back later and so I suppose I really did love it as much as everything else that Mary Oliver has done. I will share three of my favourites even though it is awfully tough to narrow it down.
The Word

How wonderful! I speak of the soul and seen people
rise from their chairs and leave the room, seven others
lean forward to listen. I speak of the body, the
Aug 24, 2013 carmie added it
Shelves: poetry
Absolutely beautiful, soul-enriching. In particular, "Winter at Herring Cove."

"But here's the kingdom we call remembrance
with its thousand iron doors
through which I pass so easily,

switching on the old lights as I go-"

Her poetry is a balm for the soul.
Jul 31, 2016 Rob rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, read-2016
What Do We Know is an appropriate title for a collection of poems by Mary Oliver. Oliver writes about nature like virtually no one else alive today (that I am aware of). Her kinship with nature, her admiration for the transcendency of the natural world seems like something out of Emerson's era, or even Wordsworth (think "The World is Too Much With Us"). But, unlike Emerson, Oliver is content to let nature speak for itself. She is an observer, not a prophet. At most, she is a translator, revealin ...more
Dan Gobble
Jul 24, 2016 Dan Gobble rated it it was amazing
Some of my favorite lines from this collection:

From "Heron Rises from the Dark, Summer Pond" -

Then, not for the first or the last time,
I take the deep breath
of happiness, and I think
how unlikely it is

that death is a hole in the ground,
how improbable
that ascension is not possible,
though everything seems so inert, so nailed

back into itself -
the muskrat and his lumpy lodge,
the turtle,
the fallen gate. (p. 27)

From "On Losing a House" -

Don't tell us
how to love, don't tell us
how to grieve, or what
Oct 24, 2007 D'Anne rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
This isn't Mary Oliver's most solid book of poems, I'm guessing. Truth be told, I haven't read any of her other books. But I have read parts of her "greatest hits" collection and know that she has some amazing poems. This book contains, as the cover promises, "Poems and Prose Poems." A handful of the "poems" are quite good, including the amazing "On Losing a House" and "Her Grave, Again." The "prose poems" didn't really do anything for me. They felt like little journal entries, which isn't a bad ...more
Dec 23, 2014 Babs rated it liked it
A book of poetry is perfect by the fire on the rainy afternoon. The Hummingbird, Winter at Herring Cover, The Loon and Snowy Night are a few favorites.

Oct 13, 2014 Joan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Mary Oliver's nature poems combine the spiritual with her imagery of the world around her. A truly beautiful read.
May 29, 2015 Gillian rated it it was amazing
Every work of poetry by Mary Oliver is something to be treasured and cherished. Stunning, simple and eloquent are her words. Her observations are ones that I am eternally grateful for.
David Canon
Jan 28, 2015 David Canon rated it it was amazing
Probably my favorite poet. Beautiful writing.
Stephanie Castro
Apr 18, 2015 Stephanie Castro rated it really liked it
Less introspective narrative involvement with subject matter than in Dreamwork, but still incredible, beautiful.
I saw myself here:

"Therefore, dark past,
I'm about to do it.
I'm about to forgive you

for everything."
Oct 15, 2009 Sherry rated it really liked it
I could have a whole Mary Oliver bookshelf--and do. The two poems I love most in this one are "On Loosing a House" and "Gratitude" in which she poetically ponders the questions: What did you notice? What did you hear? What did you admire? What astonished you? What would you like to see again? What was most tender? What was most wonderful? What did you think was happening?
Jan 06, 2008 rinabeana rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Though some of her more nature-inspired poetry doesn't strike a chord with me (not my thing, really), many of her other poems really jumped out at me. Her simple, somewhat unconventional, writing style can be very poignant. I really enjoyed these poems, and I'm going to check out more of her work.
May 27, 2010 Lisa rated it it was amazing
To see as Mary Oliver sees (and to dare hope to write as she writes!), would be the greatest gift imaginable. To see grace in every creature and to be struck with amazement by every shaft of light and ocean wave would be a glorious way to live. I'll have what she's having!
Jan 06, 2010 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Wild Geese introduced me to Mary Oliver years ago, and it's been confirmed that she's incapable of writing a bad poem. Or of publishing a bad poem. p.30, On Losing a House, is a favorite of this collection, and has the phrase "O mossy money" burned into my mind.
Nov 20, 2008 Sebastien rated it it was ok
There are a few wonderful poems in here, but overall, I can't help feeling that some of the work is a little too light and fluffy, somewhat corny... which is a surprise, I'm usually a big fan of nature-inspired work.
Mads P.
Feb 24, 2011 Mads P. rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I really enjoyed reading these poems. They were a peaceful respite after my journey to India. I need to come back when I have the book in front of me and list some of my favorite poems here.
Nov 13, 2008 Justin rated it it was amazing
Reading Mary Oliver always takes the soul on a journey to places that it has always known, but we often forget. What it finds there is peacefulness and awareness of a grand scale.
Oct 12, 2012 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
It's hard to write lucid reviews of poetry, so I'll only say that Oliver's is luminous and thoughtful, and there are a handful of poems in every volume that make me feel changed.
Eliza T. Williamson
May 13, 2008 Eliza T. Williamson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Another magnificent collection from Mary Oliver--do yourself a favor and if you don't know Mary Oliver, get to know her!
Chris Mower
Aug 26, 2011 Chris Mower rated it really liked it
Reading Mary Oliver's poetry is like taking a breathe of fresh air. It's clean, simple, and stunningly beautiful.
Jul 18, 2011 Trista added it
Shelves: poetry
"Attention is the beginning of devotion." You are what you think, and I want to see the world as Mary Oliver does.
Apr 14, 2008 Sarah rated it liked it
Never really liked poetry about nature until I read Mary Oliver. My favorite: "Her Grave, Again."
Michele Yates
Dec 13, 2012 Michele Yates rated it really liked it
Beautifully articulated images. Almost prayers. Mary Oliver's poems make me optimistic.
Ruth Harper
Sep 13, 2009 Ruth Harper rated it it was amazing
It is important to be alert to all the world offers us on a daily basis.
Jul 08, 2008 Mike rated it it was amazing
I really like Mary Oliver's poems and recommend any of her collections.
Aug 28, 2007 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
If you love poetry and haven't experienced Mary Oliver you are missing out.
Jun 19, 2015 Anne rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
Not as good as Why I Wake Early, but Mary Oliver is always a joy.
Dec 06, 2012 Mag rated it it was amazing
i enjoy the author's sense of humor and irony. love all her books.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

“Mary Oliver. In a region that has produced most of the nation's poet laureates, it is risky to single out one fragile 71-year-old bard of Provincetown. But Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1983, is my choice for her joyous, accessible, intimate observati
More about Mary Oliver...

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“Always there is something worth saying
about glory, about gratitude.”
“Sometimes I really believe it, that I am going to
save my life

a little.”
More quotes…