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Upstream: Selected Essays

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  9,488 ratings  ·  1,363 reviews
Comprising a selection of essays, Upstream finds beloved poet Mary Oliver reflecting on her astonishment and admiration for the natural world and the craft of writing.  

As she contemplates the pleasure of artistic labor, finding solace and safety within the woods, and the joyful and rhythmic beating of wings, Oliver intimately shares with her readers her quiet discoveries,
Hardcover, 178 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Penguin Press
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Aidan From the table of contents:
- Upstream
- My Friend Walt Whitman
- Staying Alive
- Of Power and Time
- Blue Pastures
- The Ponds
- Sister Turtle
- Emerson: An …more
From the table of contents:
- Upstream
- My Friend Walt Whitman
- Staying Alive
- Of Power and Time
- Blue Pastures
- The Ponds
- Sister Turtle
- Emerson: An Introduction
- The Bright Eyes of Eleonora: Poe's Dream of Recapturing the Impossible
- Some Thoughts on Whitman
- Wordsworth's Mountain
- Swoon
- Birds
- Owls
- Two Short Ones ("Who Cometh Here?", "Ropes")
- Winter Hours
- Building the House
- Provincetown(less)

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 ·  9,488 ratings  ·  1,363 reviews

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Feb 13, 2017 rated it liked it
I have a weird relationship with Mary Oliver. I own, and have read, several of her books. Most of them are poetry, but a couple of them are essay collections (as Upstream is). I generally like most of her books, and it excites me to see someone making some kind of a living off selling poetry. Though, where Ms. Oliver lives (a beaver hut?) is yet to be determined by me.

Sometimes, when I'm reading her work, I'm smiling or nodding and really feeling groovy. For instance, in this collection, she pon
Diane S ☔
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.5 I have read her poetry for years, she in one of my favorites but until this book I never knew she was an essayist. The beautiful writing and thoughts that are expressed in her poetry are also expressed in her writing. Thoughts on creativity, need for solitude, the wonder of the natural world, and those writers that she has loved since her youth.

Divided into three sections, the last two tying back to the first. Emerson, Poe, Whitman, those writers she finds indispensable to her own thoughts,
Justin Tate
Nov 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Have not read Mary Oliver prior to this but I understand she’s a celebrated poet. Her prose has the distinct voice of a poet which leads to some occasionally beautiful sentences and poignant observations. Generally, however, this eclectic mix of previously published snippets has little to say.

The strongest moments include her musing obsession with the great poets and the artist’s life. Her brief analysis of Poe and Whitman are noteworthy. Literary criticism segues into nature writing, and someti
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Mary Oliver can do no wrong in her poetry. She is one of my favorite voices, reflecting on nature, reflecting on relationships. She is happy to live a life that isn't well-traveled, but rather one that notices, that breathes.

This book of essays reflects that philosophy. Some are on home, some are on other writers, some are on scrambled turtle eggs. I was cooing over the beautiful writing on the plane, much to my seatmates' chagrin. This would be a good addition to an essay collection OR for fans
Cathrine ☯️
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: net-galley
If you were to take a walk upstream what would you notice?
Exploring the twin pleasures of writing literature with essays on Whitman, Wordsworth, Poe, and Emerson and then the observations of the natural world—seeing it, hearing it, and responding to it, are the inspiration in this collection by poet Mary Oliver.

She so beautifully describes the watery world of fish swimming in blue pastures, sunflowers that are more wonderful than any words about them, and wild roses as an immutable force whose
Diane Barnes
Nov 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've always loved her poetry, but, until now, never read any prose by Mary Oliver. Her writing is wonderful and peaceful and cleansing. Magic. ...more
Dannii Elle
Actual rating 4.5 stars.

I received this book in exchange from an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Mary Oliver, and the publisher, Penguin Press, for this opportunity.

This is a selection of essays, written in a beautiful and abstract style, concerning a variety of topics; from the history of Emmerson, the laying of turtle eggs in the sand, Poe’s concern over the uncertainty of the universe and the adventures of a common house spider.

I enjoyed some more than others, purely be
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Incredibly beautiful and just awe-inspiring how she was able to express her passion for literature and nature within such small essays.
Certain essays were written so vividly, that I felt right there with her, seeing what she had seen when she was describing the woods. Absolutely loved this book.
4.5 Stars
Sep 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In her essay collection, Upstream, Mary Oliver sets us on a trail through forest and by shore as she expertly layers in experience and thought from essay to essay. A collection of three parts, the latter two being expansions on the first, Upstream is Oliver's beautifully writ reflection on where she comes from, her kinship with the natural world and its wild ones, and the authors that have warmed her blood and quickened her own ink.

Oliver's essays on Whitman, Emerson, and Poe are insightful pie
Some essays were better than others. I especially enjoyed her piece about winter and its darkness. The imagery was absolutely beautiful!
Nov 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Mary Oliver's essays, like her poems, are a soothing balm for the soul. ...more
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
"I quickly found for myself two such blessings -- the natural world, and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanished through a difficult place."

In in this exquisite collection of essays, national treasure Mary Oliver uses her poetic talent and gifts of observation to reflect on topics ranging from the beauty of the natural world, to the connectedness of all beings, to the need for solitude, and the genius of some of America's literary masters. As with the poet
"I never met any of my friends, of course, in a usual way—they were strangers, and lived only in their writings. But if they were only shadow-companions, still they were constant, and powerful, and amazing. That is, they said amazing things, and for me it changed the world." - Mary Oliver 🌿
I wish I had the opportunity to sit down and have a long conversation with Mary. This book did feel like she was telling me some of her life stories, but I mean really telling person, face to face. The
Dec 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was hoping this would be calming, beautiful meditations on the natural world, to read in small sips before bed. It started off that way, but oh my lord, this book. I ended up suckerpunched, lying in the dark for hours with giant, peeled eyeballs. Too wrecked to say more so I will just leave you with maybe the most beautiful characterization I’ve ever read of being an artist:
It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be.
Caroline Gerardo
ARC copy signed made me cry when I open the cover. Read while sitting outside with Cleveland National Park at my home. Tears, nods, the taste of gooseberries found hiking all in this book. We get better with wisdom of time. A book for writers, naturalists and those with a beating soul
Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

This is a collection of essays by Mary Oliver. I love her poetry and this was the first time I read her prose. The writing was brilliant. These essays were focused largely on two topics: writing and nature.

I did not think of language as the means to self-description. I thought of it as a door - a thousand opening doors! - past myself.

Mary Oliver shares her experiences of being a poet living in a small town. But the focus is not on herself - that's why her writing is both so compelling and
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Mary Oliver was a total hippie and I mean that in the best, least stereotypical way possible!
Nature was her first language and she managed to translate it into words on paper that make me step outside and look up at the trees in awe. Her appreciation of the world and its quiet miracles never fails to stun me.

Upstream is an essay collection divided into five sections. It covers Oliver's devotion to nature, words, and home (Provincetown). It also includes thoughtful essays about authors Emerson,
Mar 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Mary Oliver is such a gentle companion.

If words are brushstrokes, she lays them down delicately but with a certitude that is such a tender invigoration.

This book has inspired me to get back into a daily writing practice. And I think that really says something.
Mira | I Read Like Phoebe Runs
May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful.

I've only read Mary Oliver's poetry before this, it was years ago, but this, this made me fall in love with her writing. It's like I found a member of my soul family. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

There is no possible way for me to write a proper review, I am too over the moon even though I spent several days with this book. I want to start it again right away, which is a feeling I haven't had with a book in ages. Amazing.
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"So, it comes first: the world. Then, literature. And then, what one pencil moving over a thousand miles of paper can (perhaps, sometimes) do." ...more
Camelia Rose
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Mary Oliver's beautiful proses quickly captured the heart of a reader and a nature lover like me.


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 know at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.

And this:

Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor. With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many have coats. I didn't choose
Teenu Vijayan
Sep 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
In awe of this beautiful world that Mary Oliver so proficiently took us along through this collection.
It's true when they say that right book finds you at the right time. Reading this was like a soothing balm to my soul.
The prose is mostly lyrical, at times whimsical and often makes you pause and savour the intricacies woven through the words. Simple words are transcribed as something so beautiful that you want to them to engulf you.
Each break I took from reading this was to reread parts, to al
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
I liked most of these essays, especially the one about Whitman, and some of her writing is wonderful. She is evocative, and beautiful. The last part I thought was a bit much with the spider and the cricket and all that. Too much nature for me. Maybe I should not have read it while I was having lunch. I was not too crazy about the ones where she began speaking of animals and giving them personalities, the owl one, and the one about the dog, the one about the gull. She is a wonderful writer, but I ...more
Bree Hill
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Mary Oliver takes us on a trip through the natural world which she claims is a necessity for her to write. This is a collection of essays and they are so beautiful.

The beginning started out really strong for me. Towards the middle although I appreciated the essays on other poets that fuel her soul, it was a tad slow but then she picked right back up at the end. There is an essay in here about a little spider that I've been thinking about since I read it.

I will refer to this for a long time.
Jaclyn Day
Nov 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I lack the ability to really describe all the ways I loved, devoured, and re-devoured this book so I’ll leave it at that. Really one of the brightest spots in an otherwise challenging year for new books.
I know it's silly, but I'd love to have tea with Mary Oliver and Annie Dillard.

Some of my favorite bits from Upstream:
If this was lost, let us all be lost always. The beech leaves were just slipping their copper coats; pale green and quivering they arrived into the year. My heart opened, and opened again. The water pushed against my effort, then its glassy permission to step ahead touched my ankles. The sense of going toward the source.

I do not think that I ever, in fact, returned home.


Dec 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favorites
If you’re still doing Christmas shopping, Mary Oliver’s new book “Upstream” is a perfect gift - a gift that keeps on giving through repeated readings. “Upstream” is ideal for those with an attention to and appreciation of the natural world, those seeking a place that is peaceful, quiet, and nourishing to the soul, and those who love Mary Oliver’s poetry and her exquisite writing. Exquisite writing as demonstrated by this passage early in the book. “I was walking the wrong way, upstream instead o ...more
Elizabeth Brookbank
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
In case you haven't noticed...I loved this book! Mary Oliver is one of my all-time favorites and these essays did not disappoint. I'll forgive you if you skip the ones in the middle about Whitman and Emerson, but other than that: perfection. I filled pages and pages with quotes I wanted to remember, to hold close to my heart for comfort and wisdom and hope during the coming years. I already shared some, but here are two more favorites:
"Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and has no nee
Nov 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a beautiful book. It's a collection of essays that by the end feel a little memoir-ish, in a good way. There are essays mostly on nature and small bits of Mary Oliver's life. Literature essays are also here with a special focus on Emerson, Poe, and Whitman. The entire collection is good, but I especially enjoyed the ones focused most on nature, though the Poe one was rather interesting.

(I received an ARC of Upstream from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
You can tell these essays were written by a poet. It’s a love of the language as much as the natural world.
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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.

“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 observations of the na

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