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Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver

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Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver presents a personal selection of her best work in this definitive collection spanning more than five decades of her esteemed literary career.

Throughout her celebrated career, Mary Oliver has touched countless readers with her brilliantly crafted verse, expounding on her love for the physical world and the powerful bonds between all living things. Identified as "far and away, this country's best selling poet" by Dwight Garner, she now returns with a stunning and definitive collection of her writing from the last fifty years.

Carefully curated, these 200 plus poems feature Oliver's work from her very first book of poetry, No Voyage and Other Poems, published in 1963 at the age of 28, through her most recent collection, Felicity, published in 2015. This timeless volume, arranged by Oliver herself, showcases the beloved poet at her edifying best. Within these pages, she provides us with an extraordinary and invaluable collection of her passionate, perceptive, and much-treasured observations of the natural world.

456 pages, Hardcover

First published October 10, 2017

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About the author

Mary Oliver

115 books6,346 followers
Mary Jane Oliver was an American poet who won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is inspired by nature, rather than the human world, stemming from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,725 reviews
Profile Image for Libby.
354 reviews75 followers
June 20, 2019
I am aware of the criticisms of Mary Oliver’s work. She wrote about perhaps uncool things like God and the natural world and has been called “earnest” amongst other patronizing things. I believe that the critics are missing the core of her work which comes from an embodied sense of the ecstatic connection to all things. That we are not indeed truly separate but appear so in manifest form. This is not a cerebral concept, it is a felt sense in the body and Oliver’s poetry is drenched in this but without fanfare, without fluff and spin. The words are unsophisticated but they are imbued with her lived sense. If you do not know this feeling in your body you will not be able to identify it purely from the mind. To read her work without this embodied sense is to miss the beauty of the energetic transmission within the words. When I read her words I feel the poetry in my being in a way that is well beyond mental imagery and cerebral dissection. Yes the words are simple but the embodiment of them is where there is lush responsive, resonance. I like Devotions particularly because she chose the poems. “Attention is the beginning of devotion” is a line in one of the poems and this rings true to me. Attention is how we cultivate an intimacy with the whole of life...a felt sense of of the moment...this feeling what is in each moment leads deeper and deeper into an embodied connection and for me a reverential awe at the interconnectedness of all life which inspires in me a devotional love beyond words. Mary Oliver attempts to put this devotional love in words and this is why I love her work.
Profile Image for Lori.
359 reviews425 followers
May 4, 2021
It gives me no pleasure to write honest negative reviews. Mary Oliver is a beloved American poet and her work does nothing for me.



"Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable. I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours. Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing. If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.


In her work there's no meter, no rhyme, no alliteration, no subtext. She's not the only poet who writes this way but she's the most celebrated. I need my poetry to have one or as many as possible of those qualities. If I'm reading a solid block of text I want it to scan, have sibilance; otherwise it's prose and in this case, not particularly good prose. I need to feel when I read a poem that time and care has gone into the selection of each word, that it's been placed there as carefully as a jeweler with a loupe carefully uses their special tools to place precious gems in their setting.

I think I understand why people love them so: they're mostly about nature, they're happy, they make one feel good. But there's not one in this collection that resonated with me and Mary Oliver curated this herself, oddly going backwards from her latter work to the beginning. I read it both ways and I'd read some of it before in magazines. And then I read literary reviews. Some were negative, some not and I found a few reviews of different books in the same publication -- including the New Yorker, New York Times and the Washington Post -- in which one critic wrote this is not poetry, this is nothing special at all and another, before or after, says it's magic and she is/was a treasure.

There's nothing to interpret in her lines. I'm walking in the woods and I hear an owl. I see a bird's nest. Here are these trees, there this animal, that plant and "If God exists he isn't just butter and good luck. He's also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke..." But for a lot of people who won't agree with me, there's something to cherish.

Mary Oliver had nothing to prove; she led a happy life in beautiful places with her lifelong partner, and was celebrated, decorated and adored. Like the rest of her work this doesn't engage my mind or heart let alone make my soul sing or even hum. I selected it because so many people love her and are nourished by her work, and unlike in any other poem in Devotions here she seems to be addressing her critics.


If James Wright
could put in his book of poems
a blank page

dedicated to "the Horse David
Who Ate One of My Poems," I am ready
to follow him along

the sweet path he cut
through the dryness
and suggest that you sit now

very quietly
in some lovely wild place, and listen
to the silence.

And I say that this, too,
is a poem.

Profile Image for Jeannie.
205 reviews
February 24, 2019
This is a beautiful collection of poetry from Mary Oliver. I finished it with a tear in my eye knowing there won't be anything more from her. She just passed away this year. There is something about her poetry that is comforting to me. I'm sorry she is gone.

It was very hard to pick a favorite poem from this book because there are so many I loved.
This one is still one of my favorites.

What Gorgeous Thing

I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can't and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.
Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,125 reviews30.3k followers
February 18, 2023
My friend, Pat, recommended Devotions by Mary Oliver as a comfort read back in November. She said this, along with Blue Iris, would be all the Mary Oliver I would ever need. I try to remind myself of that each time I finish a poem, and I want I buy all her other collections of which she has many. Devotions is supposed to be composed of her most loved work. That rings true, since I’ve found each and every poem to be resonant in its own way.

Mary Oliver’s way with words is unmatched. One line can leave me in awe of nature’s raw beauty, or an audible gasp with emotion. Some of the poems address grief, while others leave an openendedness in which I could inject my own emotions and find reassurance in return. That experience is like gold in times like this.

For these reasons and more, Devotions has sat on my nightstand since November when it was purchased, and there it will remain. Easy to pick up and read a poem before bed to close the day with beauty, or one at sunrise for a slice of peace. Even if you think poetry isn’t for you, you should still give Mary Oliver a try some time. Her beautiful words have carried me.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Margene.
69 reviews5 followers
November 9, 2017
Mary is one of my constant companions. This book is one I will be reading today, tomorrow, the next day, the next year, and the next, because I will read it for the rest of my life. Thank you, Mary for giving my love of life and nature voice.
Profile Image for Laysee.
498 reviews233 followers
September 8, 2019
Sep 8, 2019

From New and Selected Poems: Volume Two (2005) by Mary Oliver

It has been six months since I last read Mary Oliver’s poems. This past week as the weight of work bore down on me, I sought refuge in her verse, and read a couple each evening.

In an extraction of eleven poems from her collection of new poems from 2005, Oliver bade us pay attention to the natural world in every season. As she contemplated her role as a poet, she took inspiration from the ease with which nature eloquently declared its charms.

I felt a balm in my soul sharing Oliver’s nature study of the bees nuzzling against the roses, the white herons rising over blackwater, a honey locust tree in bloom, the thrush that heralds an early spring, the tern that wings its way on a summer’s day, or a tree that offers a ‘warm cave’ to the birds in autumn.

Below are a couple of poems that stood out for me:

White Herons Rises Over Blackwater
Oliver compared her job of putting words on a page to the greater brilliance found in the ‘verbal hilarity’ of a mockingbird or the pure gracefulness of a white heron. These words read like fresh dew drops.

… the white heron
over the swamp
in the darkness,
his yellow eyes
and broad wings wearing
the light of the world
in the light of the world -
ah yes, I see him.
He is exactly
the poem
I wanted to write.

The. North Country
This poem celebrates spring and the thrush that makes its annual appearance.

………..What would spring be
without it? Mostly frogs. But don’t worry, he
arrives, year after year, humble, obedient
and gorgeous. You listen and you know
you could live a better life than you do, be
softer, kinder. And maybe this year you will
be able to do it.

A timely reminder that we can opt to be softer and kinder when our natural bent is to be just the reverse.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Mar 29, 2019

The Truro Bear and Other Adventures (2008) and Red Birds (2008)

It has been a month since I last read from this devotional of poems. It is good to hear Mary Oliver’s voice again. It is always refreshing to see the world through her eyes.

This review is on selected poems from two collections published in 2008: The Truro Bear and Other Adventures and Red Birds. The poems contained her thoughts on two subjects: nature (the heron, the fish, the gray fox, the meadowlark, the panther, the pond, etc.) and self (ambition and dying). It amazes me how the most ordinary things can summon up contemplation that gives us pause.

The Gift
I love walking on the beach and occasionally picking up a seashell that catches my eye. In this poem, Oliver saw a gift in a shell tossed onto the beach by the ‘wind-bruised sea.’ She wondered how it remained intact. The shell now ‘held only the eventual, inevitable emptiness.’ But listen to this lovely thought:

There’s that - there’s always that.
Still what a house
to leave behind!
I held it

like the wisest of books
and imagined
its travels toward my hand.
now, my hand.

Featured in Red Birds (2008) are poems that show her love of animals that share our world. In Night Herons, Oliver observed the herons fishing at night. Only a poet with her sensitivity would have contemplated what it meant for the fish who were ‘full of fish happiness’ one moment and then became the herons’ supper the next. In Invitation, Oliver invited us to linger just to listen to the ‘musical battle’ of the goldfinches because their ‘melodious striving’ revealed the ‘sheer delight and gratitude...of being alive.’ The saddest poem is Red about two gray foxes that were run over by cars and how she carried them to the fields and watched them bleed to death ('Gray fox and gray fox. Red, red, red.')

Featured, too, in Red Birds (2008) are Oliver’s thoughts about mortality, this life, amassing things, and chasing our ambitions. The following poems are the ones that stood out for me.

The Orchard
This is a poem on feeding ambition and her epiphany:

Lo, and I have discovered
how soft bloom

turns to sweet fruit.
Lo, and I have discovered

all winds blow cold
at last,
and the leaves,

so pretty, so many,

and the ripeness
of the apple
is its downfall

Death is something that comes ‘out of the dark’ or ‘out of the water.’ It is grotesque given it has ‘the head the size of a cat but muddy and without ears.’ Yet, right in the middle of seven stanzas we read:

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

This is a contemplation on getting old. What a lovely poem!

though I’m not twenty
and won’t be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Feb 17, 2019

Evidence (2009) by Mary Oliver

If you live in the city like I do, I wonder if you have sometimes pined for the woods or a pocket of green where you can be in communion with the natural world. I have discovered over and over again that reading Oliver’s poetry provides a transport of delight to beauty and wonder. With Oliver, nature rambles are the rich soil of contemplation. In this selection of eleven poems from Evidence (2009), Oliver called attention to the business of living and the sanctity of life.

In It Was Early Oliver woke with the dawn to look at the world – the owl under the pines, the mink with his bushy tail, the soft-eared mice, the pines heavy with cones – and was astounded by the many gifts that greeted her, which prompted this thought:

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.

There is a lovely poem titled To Begin With, The Sweet Grass, in which she considered the ’the witchery of living' and bid us to treasure life, to give both ourselves and others a chance, to evolve and be more than ourselves.

We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we change.
Congratulations, if
you have changed.

Here’s a question worthy of thought:

And, if you have not been enchanted by this adventure -
your life -
what would do for you?

In the poem, Evidence, Oliver reflected that memory can either be 'a golden bowl, or a basement without light'

Some memories I would give anything to forget.
Others I would not give up upon the point of
death, they are the bright hawks of my life.

And thus, we have a choice over what we wish to hold on to.

Lastly, Oliver invited us to take a lesson from nature:
And consider, always, every day, the determination
of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles.

Today is a Sabbath Day. You can say I just read a poetic homily.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Jan 30, 2019

From Swan (2010) by Mary Oliver

The seven poems Oliver selected from Swan (2010) for inclusion in Devotions beckoned us to embrace life, especially, to embrace joy. More than just beautiful, they exude a sage-like quality.

These poems were inspired by what is often unobserved - Queen Anne’s Lace in an 'unworked field' making ‘all the loveliness it can’ or a swan ‘rising into the silvery air, an armful of white blossoms, a perfect commotion of silk and linen.’ They also steer our thoughts toward beneficent ways of approaching the hosts of things that worry us or claim our lives. Most of all, I love reading about how she went about walking in the woods.

Here are excerpts from two poems I love. The first is prose-like and too lovely not to reproduce in full.

Don’t hesitate
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches and power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

How I Go To The Woods
Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree…..

...Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible.....

…If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - --

Jan 27, 2019

From A Thousand Mornings (2012) by Mary Oliver

From A Thousand Mornings (2012) is a meditative ensemble of ten poems whose dominant subject is water, be it the sea or the River Ganges. Other poems contain Oliver’s reflections on the approach of winter and her own Life Story against the infinite cycle in nature’s diurnal ebb and flow.

In Tides, Oliver’s keen eye surveyed the sea (‘blue gray green lavender’), old whalebones, white fish spines, barnacle-clad stones, and the ‘piled curvatures’ of seaweeds. There is a pleasing, relaxed contrast to the busyness of the sea pulling away, the gulls walking, seaweeds spilling over themselves. Oliver said,

And here you may find me
on almost any morning
walking along the shore so
light-footed so casual.

I appreciated the understated humor in this delightful poem, I Go Down To The Shore
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall -
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.

There is no room for self-pity, is there?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

January 26, 2019

From Dog Songs (2013) by Mary Oliver

From Dog Songs (2013) is a heartwarming collection of poems that will resonate with readers who love dogs. Oliver wrote with deep affection for her dogs and devoted a handful to Percy ‘our new dog, named for the beloved poet.’

It is easy to see why one might perchance envy a dog’s life – ‘breaking the new snow with wild feet’ and ‘not thinking, not weighing anything, just running forward.’

Here’s a charming extract from the poem, Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night (Percy Three):
Tell me you love me, he says
Tell me again.
Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask it.
I get to tell.

Aww…. a perfect devotion on an indolent Saturday evening.

- - - - - - - - -

January 25, 2019

From Blue Horses (2014) by Mary Oliver

’Nature never did betray the heart that loved her.’ (‘On Tintern Abbey’, William Worthsworth)

This review update is based on a selection of poems ‘From Blue Horses (2014)'. The eleven poems in this collection expressed the repose and comfort Oliver found in the natural world and quietly invited the reader to share her gratitude. She truly was a poet after the nature lover’s own heart.

The subject of these poems included the slippery green frog, stones on the beach, blueberries, a vulture’s wings, and the gorgeous bluebird. Reading the poems is like going on a nature ramble with her and seeing what we often take for granted with new eyes.

I also appreciate her idea of meditation, which was lounging under a tree and falling asleep. That it can be refreshing is evident in these lines:

On Meditating, Sort Of
‘Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints -
all that glorious, temporary stuff.’

There is a constancy or fidelity in nature elegantly communicated in my favorite poem in this collection:
I too have known loneliness
I too have known what it is to feel
rejected, and suddenly
not at all beautiful
Oh, Mother Earth,
your comfort is great, your arms never withhold.
It has saved my life to know this.
Your rivers flowing, your roses opening in the morning.
Oh, motions of tenderness.

Read Mary Oliver. We will look at nature quite differently.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Devotions is an exquisite anthology of poems by Mary Oliver who died on Jan 17, 2019. She was 83. This treasure trove, put together by Oliver herself, contains poetry from her first book of poetry, Voyage and Other Poems (1963), to her most recent collection, Felicity (2015).

Reading a couple of Oliver’s poems each morning is like having a devotion, a communion of sorts with the beauty that resides in the goodness around us. This review will be built up bit by bit at the breakfast table.

Jan 23, 2019
From Felicity
This selection of eleven poems is Mary’s reflections on love, her perceptive participation in the natural world, and her discovery of the things that matter. Four poems express the thankfulness one feels towards a beloved (a ‘gift’) and the pangs of impending or actual loss. A handful of poems draw attention to the miracle of redbird chicks chirping for food, whistling swans in a posture of prayer, and lilies bowing to the ‘tug of desire.’ Few poets write about nature with deep moving eloquence. With Oliver, nature almost always awakens an awareness of a larger interior world. Here’s a line from Whistling Swans:

“Rumi said, There is no proof of the soul.
But isn’t the return of spring and how it
springs up in our hearts a pretty good hint?”

There is a thoughtful poem titled Storage on the joy of uncluttering. Below is a fitting response to ‘things’:

Burn them, burn them! Make a beautiful
fire! More room in your heart for love,
for the trees! For the birds who own
nothing - the reason they can fly.

Herein lies wisdom.
Profile Image for ༺Kiki༻.
2,000 reviews114 followers
May 11, 2018
I pre-ordered Devotions without looking at the description, because Mary Oliver! I didn't realize it's a collection of previously published work. I own all of her ebooks, so much of the content isn't new to me. It is very nice to have selected poems from books not available as ebooks and those that are out of print: What Do We Know, The Leaf And The Cloud, White Pine, American Primitive, Twelve Moons, The River Styx, Ohio, and No Voyage.

For those with a Mary Oliver collection, here's what's included:

From: Felicity 2015
I Wake Close to Morning
This Morning
The World I Live In
Whistling Swans
For Tom Shaw S.S.J.E. (1945–2014)
I Know Someone
That Little Beast
The Pond
I Have Just Said
The Gift

From: Blue Horses 2014
After Reading Lucretius, I Go to the Pond
I Don’t Want to Be Demure or Respectable
Stebbin’s Gulch
Franz Marc’s Blue Horses
On Meditating, Sort Of
Do Stones Feel?
The Vulture’s Wings
What Gorgeous Thing

From: Dog Songs 2013
The Storm
Percy (One)
Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night (Percy Three)
Percy (Nine)
Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where
The Dog Has Run Off Again
Her Grave
The Poetry Teacher
The First Time Percy Came Back

From: A Thousand Mornings 2012
I Go Down to the Shore
I Happened to Be Standing
Three Things to Remember
Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness
An Old Story
The Instant
The Poet Compares Human Nature to the Ocean From Which We Came
Life Story

From: Swan 2010
I Worried
I Own a House
Don’t Hesitate
Passing the Unworked Field
How I Go to the Woods
On the Beach

From: Evidence 2009
We Shake With Joy
It Was Early
With Thanks to the Field Sparrow, Whose Voice Is So Delicate and Humble
A Lesson From James Wright
Almost a Conversation
To Begin With, the Sweet Grass
Mysteries, Yes
At the River Clarion

From: The Truro Bear and Other Adventures 2008
The Other Kingdoms
The Gift
Coyote in the Dark, Coyotes Remembered

From: Red Bird 2008
Night Herons
Mornings at Blackwater
The Orchard
From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink
We Should Be Well Prepared
Meadowlark Sings and I Greet Him in Return
Of the Empire
Night and the River
With the Blackest of Inks

From:Thirst 2006
When I Am Among the Trees
When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention
Six Recognitions of the Lord
The Poet Thinks About the Donkey
Doesn’t Every Poet Write a Poem About Unrequited Love?
On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate (Psalm 145)
The Chat

From: New and Selected Poems, Volume Two 2005
White Heron Rises Over Blackwater
Honey Locust
Song for Autumn
The Poet With His Face in His Hands
Wild, Wild
North Country

From: Blue Iris 2004
Just Lying on the Grass at Blackwater
Sea Leaves
Morning at Blackwater
How Would You Live Then?
How the Grass and the Flowers Came to Exist, a God-Tale

From: Why I Wake Early 2004
Why I Wake Early
Spring at Blackwater: I Go Through the Lessons Already Learned
Lingering in Happiness
Goldenrod, Late Fall
The Old Poets of China
Snow Geese
At Black River
The Arrowhead
Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

From: Long Life 2004
Just as the Calendar Began to Say Summer
Can You Imagine?
Softest of Mornings
Carrying the Snake to the Garden

From: Owls and Other Fantasies 2003
The Dipper
While I Am Writing a Poem to Celebrate Summer, the Meadowlark Begins to Sing

From: What Do We Know 2002
Summer Poem
The Loon
Winter at Herring Cove
Blue Iris
You Are Standing at the Edge of the Woods
The Roses
One Hundred White-Sided Dolphins on a Summer Day

From: The Leaf And The Cloud 2000
From the Book of Time

From: West Wind 1997
Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches
Seven White Butterflies
At Round Pond
Black Oaks
Am I Not Among the Early Risers
From the Poem “West Wind”

From: White Pine 1994
Yes! No!
In Pobiddy, Georgia
I Found a Dead Fox
Morning Glories
I Looked Up
The Sea Mouse

From: New and Selected Poems, Volume One 1992
The Sun
When Death Comes
Water Snake
White Flowers
The Egret
Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York, 1957

From: House of Light 1990
Some Questions You Might Ask
The Buddha’s Last Instruction
The Summer Day
Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard
The Kookaburras
Roses, Late Summer
White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field
The Hermit Crab
The Kingfisher
The Swan
The Loon on Oak-Head Pond
Five a.M. in the Pinewoods
Some Herons

From: Dream Work 1986
One or Two Things
Morning Poem
Wild Geese
The Journey
Two Kinds of Deliverance
Black Snakes
1945–1985: Poem for the Anniversary
The Sunflowers

From: American Primitive 1983
The Kitten
Clapp’s Pond
First Snow
Skunk Cabbage
The Snakes
White Night
The Fish
A Meeting
The Roses
In Blackwater Woods

From: Three Rivers Poetry Journal 1980 and “Three Poems for James Wright” 1982
At Blackwater Pond
The Rabbit
Three Poems for James Wright

From: Twelve Moons 1979
Sleeping in the Forest
Snakes in Winter
Music Lessons
Entering the Kingdom
The Night Traveler
Beaver Moon—the Suicide of a Friend
Last Days
The Black Snake
The Truro Bear
Snow Moon—Black Bear Gives Birth
Strawberry Moon
Pink Moon—the Pond
Aunt Leaf
Farm Country
The Lamps

From: The River Styx, Ohio 1972
Learning About the Indians
Going to Walden
Night Flight

From: No Voyage 1963 and 1965
No Voyage
Beyond the Snow Belt
The Swimming Lesson
On Winter’s Margin
The Return
Morning in a New Land
Profile Image for cameron.
145 reviews705 followers
July 23, 2021
it was so interesting to see which poems mary oliver picked out as her favorites, or as what she thought encompassed her collective works. many of my personal favorites are missing ! if you want to get in to her poetry, this is of course a great starting point as it has a selection that spans her entire career . love love love as always
Profile Image for ria.
163 reviews41 followers
January 1, 2022
"listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?"
Profile Image for Vartika.
375 reviews609 followers
July 9, 2021
I began my time with these poems while in the high hills, in a sunny meadow brimming with daisies and birdsong and surrounded by deodars stretching out to meet the sky—so you see how I felt these verses, completely entangled in the way in which Mary Oliver wrote, her unsophisticated but ecstatic dispensing of hope like a clear and sweet stream set never to run out.

Poetry can describe many a feeling with astounding accuracy, but there is no describing poetry. Instead, I will attach here one of my favourite pieces from this volume, its very own, very best review:
To Begin With, The Sweet Grass

Will the hungry ox stand in the field and not eat
of the sweet grass?
Will the owl bite off its own wings?
Will the lark forget to lift its body in the air or
forget to sing?
Will the rivers run upstream?

Behold, I say—behold
the reliability and the finery and the teachings
of this gritty earth gift.

Eat bread and understand comfort.
Drink water, and understand delight.
Visit the garden where the scarlet trumpets
are opening their bodies for the hummingbirds
who are drinking the sweetness, who are
thrillingly gluttonous.

For one thing leads to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And someone's face, whom you love, will be as a star
both intimate and ultimate,
and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.

And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:
oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two
beautiful bodies of your lungs.

The witchery of living
is my whole conversation
with you, my darlings.
All I can tell you is what I know.

Look, and look again.
This world is not just a little thrill for the eyes.

It's more than bones.
It's more than the delicate wrist with its personal pulse.
It's more than the beating of the single heart.
It's praising.
It's giving until the giving feels like receiving.
You have a life—just imagine that!
You have this day, and maybe another, and maybe
still another.

Someday I am going to ask my friend Paulus,
the dancer, the potter,
to make me a begging bowl
which I believe
my soul needs.

And if I come to you,
to the door of your comfortable house
with unwashed clothes and unclean fingernails,
will you put something into it?

I would like to take this chance.
I would like to give you this chance.

We do one thing or another; we stay the same, or we
Congratulations, if
you have changed.

Let me ask you this.
Do you also think that beauty exists for some
fabulous reason?

And, if you have not been enchanted by this adventure—
your life—
what would do for you?

What I loved in the beginning, I think, was mostly myself.
Never mind that I had to, since somebody had to.
That was many years ago.
Since then I have gone out from my confinements,
though with difficulty.
I mean the ones that thought to rule my heart.
I cast them out, I put them on the mush pile.
They will be nourishment somehow (everything is nourishment
somehow or another).

And I have become the child of the clouds, and of hope.
I have become the friend of the enemy, whoever that is.
I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.

As for the volume as a body: Devotions presents a bouquet of Oliver's poems from across her long career in her own arrangement. Selected by Oliver shortly before her death in 2019, these 200-odd poems are ordered in reverse—from Felicity (2015) to No Voyage and Other Poems (1963). I couldn't help but visualise this as a final testament to living, a recap that runs backwards towards birth, something like a video montage of a flower picking itself back up from the ground and going from bloom to bud.

Of course, much has been said of Oliver's work—that it is too simple, or too naïve, or that its cadence derives not from metre but from a sense of harmony that many of us have been too dulled to attempt to feel. The critics can relax: Oliver herself did not want to live forever, only to be remembered if at all; as she says in one of the poems included in this collection; as "a bride married to amazement". And that she was. That we all can feel when we go out seeking the world through her words. From where I stand, Devotions is a wonderful place to start.


Some other poems from this volume that I enjoyed:
• How I Go to The Woods
• Sometimes
• Lingering in Happiness
• Black Oaks
• Of the Empire
• Coyotes in the Dark, Coyotes Remembered
• Am I Not Among The Early Risers
• Night Flight
• Morning in a New Land
Profile Image for Kimber.
205 reviews57 followers
January 22, 2023
Mary Oliver doesn't just write about nature, she writes about our Oneness with nature. She comes across her insights, often, in a state of Bliss. To read her is a spiritual experience in itself.

In this collection of her selected poems, these are her favorites, not necessarily my favorites. I have loved her smaller, more intimate collections that all seemed to harmonize together. For that reason, on a personal level this collection is really a 4 star for me but I am giving her 5 stars because poetry is always subjective and there are many, many outstanding poems here.

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Profile Image for John.
346 reviews12 followers
February 10, 2019
With Mary Oliver's recent passing, I wanted to read her selected poems in order to see why she was so popular and also to find enjoyment in them as well. My first advice for this book and other selected or collected poems of poets is to read them starting with the early books and moving forward from there. You will see how the poet develops.

I cannot give these poems any accolades for their craft or uniqueness. They reminded me of the old Swanson TV dinners in foil trays: uniformly prepared and only requiring heating. Nothing is demanded of the reader; it is there for easy consumption and no more. A poet like Kay Ryan, for example, requires a thinking interaction with her readers. Oliver does not.

I can see why, though, that the poems are popular. They are spiritual and have an uplifting quality to them. They express a profound love and appreciation of nature. There's nothing wrong with that, but I tend to believe that poetry demands more. I think Oliver would have been a great nature essayist, as the writing is mini-essays rather than poems.
Profile Image for Ali Nuri.
Author 1 book87 followers
January 28, 2020

Devotions provides a fitting culmination of her life philosophy, her core tenets bound together in one vulnerable place. Ultimately, her work divulges with astute observation the crux of what we are: at once human and animal, at once selfish and full of gratitude, at once perfect and profoundly flawed. The paradoxical balancing act between shameless desire and overwhelming selflessness is deftly traversed through her lush turns of phrase:

For one thing leads to another.
Soon you will notice how stones shine underfoot.
Eventually tides will be the only calendar you believe in.

And someone’s face, whom you love, will be as a star
both intimate and ultimate,
and you will be both heart-shaken and respectful.

And you will hear the air itself, like a beloved, whisper:
oh, let me, for a while longer, enter the two
beautiful bodies of your lungs.

Both achingly universal and gut-wrenchingly personal, Oliver simultaneously forces us to confront
and entwine the outer world with our inner worlds, where our place among “the family of things” is ascertained only through the intersection of the physical and cerebral realms. Central to her perspective is the interconnectedness of all things, regardless of their tenuous association. The bulk
of her work fixated on subjects including identity, mortality, and nature, often blending these vital fascinations within the same poem:

And that’s when it happens—
you see everything
through their eyes,
their joy, their necessity;
you wear their webbed fingers;
your throat swells.
And that’s when you know
you will live whether you will or not,
one way or another,
because everything is everything else,
one long muscle.

Though her lexis and subjects are deceptively simple, her ideas and overwhelming message are incredibly complex. Such morsels of wisdom may only emerge via scathing self-reflection,
acceptance of one’s darkness, and the will to strive for unflinching compassion above all else. Her
words bestow a brave dogma of openness with the universe, the perils of existence, and the undefinable devotions shared between one another:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:

to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Devotions stands as a quiet meditation on the blameless act of being in a world that is preoccupied with doing. Through the darkest happenings of today’s world, Mary Oliver’s poetry continues to shine brightly and reminds us what it means to be present, appreciative, and most importantly, ourselves.
Profile Image for julieta.
1,140 reviews19.4k followers
July 24, 2018
I feel totally connected with Mary Olivers images;
nature, trees, insects, spirituality, joy.
Just wonderful and enlightening.
Profile Image for G.G..
Author 5 books114 followers
January 3, 2022
A collection of poems to dip in and out of, as the spirit moves. Much of the natural world Oliver describes is unfamiliar to me: it was often difficult to see what she was seeing. But feel what she was feeling? Emphatically yes. Oliver's poems succeed beautifully in conveying what it felt like to see what she saw.

One example, from "The Dipper", which is apparently a small North American bird.
Once I saw
in a quick-falling, white-veined stream,
among the leafed islands of the wet rocks,
a small bird, and knew it

from the pages of a book; it was
the dipper, and dipping he was,
as well as, sometimes, on a rock-peak, starting up
the clear, strong pipe of his voice;
And still I hear him--
and whenever I open the ponderous book of riddles
he sits with his black feet hooked to the page,
his eyes cheerful, still burning with water-love--

and thus the world is full of leaves and feathers,
and comfort, and instruction. I do not even remember
your name, great river,
but since that hour I have lived

in the joy of the body as full and clear
as falling water; the pleasures of the mind
like a dark bird dipping in and out, tasting and singing.

Profile Image for Martha.
820 reviews16 followers
November 12, 2017
Mary Oliver Speaks to Me

Her solo is a spare song,
Sung in that way of pure unaccompanied human voice
That is raw honesty.

I love how the first note of each poem
Pierces the white page,
And humbles me with Love
Of this world
That only moments before
I had forgotten.

Backwards through a life of figuring out
With words....

Sing on beautiful bird!
And thank you
For letting me live in your world for a few hours,
All I need
And my reading glasses.
Profile Image for CHERYL.
9,300 reviews399 followers
November 23, 2020
Uff da. I should just own all of Oliver's smaller books... this is heavy as being so many pages and so encompassing. But thanks to a generous library I'm simply renewing it over & over and I will finish soon!

It's very interesting in that it works backwards in time. The first poems are the very most accessible, as she's honed her craft and focused on her theme. Even those readers who are just barely ready for more than Shel Silverstein can enjoy these. Later in the book, as we approach her at a younger age, she's more metaphorical, more experimental, and, frankly, more interesting to me.

Newbies not interested in this whole big book might do well to start with Dog Songs. The charm of the subject of dogs & of the poems, and the mutual devotion (yes) between Oliver and her canine companions touches me, despite that I've never had a desire to own a dog.
*The Storm:*
Now through the white orchard my little dog
romps, breaking the new snow
with wild feet.
Running here, running there, excited
hardly able to stop, he leaps, he spins
until the white snow is written upon
in large exuberant letters
a long sentence, expressing
the pleasures of the body in this world.

Oh, I could not have said it better
From *Sometimes*

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

From *From the Book of Time"

"Have I admired sufficiently the little hurricane
of the hummingbird?"
*White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field* is too long & too unified to present here, but know that it makes death a beautiful thing. Not to be chosen, no, but not to fear either.
Now here's the first verse of a poem the title of which is a spoiler. Please, Ms Oliver, could you not have let us try to "pay attention" and figure out what you were referencing?

Across the wide waters
something comes
floating--a slim
and delicate

ship filled
with white flowers....

(note again that GR won't hold spacing, and most poetry is shaped by indented lines, so bear in mind that my samples are not quite accurate)

Imagine... I have heard the name Tecumseh before but never knew who he was... now, because of a poem, I'm going to go learn some history.

I'm also going to look for a location called Truro. Apparently it was wild enough, a few decades ago, that people who said they saw a bear were almost believed. Now, it must be in the East somewhere, because in the West bears are relatively common 'pests.'

And don't think the poems deteriorate in quality as we get further in the book, to when Oliver was younger and less experienced. I very much appreciated *Farm Country* which concisely reminds us where fresh home-made chicken soup comes from.
Ok done. That took me seven weeks to read, but really I would have enjoyed it more if I'd taken a few years. Glorious.
Profile Image for Elizabeth☮ .
1,531 reviews11 followers
November 5, 2019
I did it! I completed the collection. The poems are listed in reverse order with the most recent poems first and the earliest poems last. This is an interesting way to take in the work of Mary Oliver. The poems are all related to nature in some manner, but I feel the earlier poems are more abstract.

I’m so glad I bought myself this book. I have so many lines underlined. I loved it.
Profile Image for j !.
42 reviews26 followers
January 6, 2022
such a beautiful, diverse range of poetry. you can find anything in here: on love, on nature, on time, on life, on sadness, on grief - anything and everything. probably going to get a line tattooed but i must narrow down my favorites first
Profile Image for Celeste.
906 reviews2,342 followers
May 29, 2022
Actual rating: 3.5 stars, rounded up.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?”

Devotions is a master collection of Mary Oliver’s poetry, collecting bits and pieces from other collections of her work over the course of her career, spanning from 1963 to 2015. This collection brought to mind the very little Wendell Berry and Marilynne Robinson I’ve read in her reverence for nature. This reverence of the natural world is what bound all of these poems into a more cohesive unit.

Some of this, the more structured areas of the collection, I liked very much. Others, the more free flowing, stream-of-consciousness selections, didn’t resonate with me at all. For poems so firmly rooted in the physical realm, they tended to feel very ephemeral, which is a writing choice I always have difficulty connecting with. However, there were certain lines that resonated so strongly. While I might not have fallen in love with her style, I can easily see why it speaks so deeply to others.

I went into this collection hoping that I was going to find a new favorite poet in Oliver. I’ve heard such wonderful things about her work, and she has influenced so many artists whose own work I already love dearly. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t quite connect with her style and voice, even if I found her subject matter beautiful. I find myself greatly respecting her, but I don’t see her as someone whose work I’ll be dipping back into with any frequency. That being said, age changes taste, so perhaps I’ll revisit her in a few years and find that we finally resonate with one another.
Profile Image for Dan.
1,105 reviews52 followers
September 23, 2020
Devotions - Mary Oliver

In a selection of poems like those in this book, covering over fifty years of poetry, a lot of the poems’ overall context is missing.

I consider Oliver’s ‘American Primitive’ one of my favorite poetry books but even so the handful of selections included here from that book have lost some of the magic as stand alone poems.

Poems I liked singularly.

1. Blueberries

2. Percy (One) - about her dog who ate the book of Bhagavad Gita

3. Her grave - about her dog and the animals nearby

4. Mornings at Blackwater - go live your life

5. Red - about the death of two foxes

6. Just as the Calendar Began To Say Summer - reminiscence of childhood and the freedom of summers

7. Summer Poem

8. Goldenrod

9. Water Snake

10. Rain - longer poem about the effects of rain on different parts of nature

11. Turtle

12. August - about the blackberries. One of my favorite poems of all time.

13. Moles

14. In Blackwater Woods

15. Sleeping in the Forest

3.5 stars. She is a wonderfully gifted writer of nature poetry but I did not like this arrangement so much.
Profile Image for Robyn.
827 reviews132 followers
February 28, 2019
A wonderful collection - absolutely beautiful from start to finish.
Profile Image for Melody Schwarting.
1,438 reviews83 followers
December 31, 2022
Devotions has been my morning poetry accompaniment for the past few months. Many of my English major friends adore Mary Oliver and I wanted to know her beyond her "one wild and precious life." Most of this collection is nature poetry, which I like.

I didn't love the arrangement of this collection, beginning with her recent poetry and ending with her older poetry. I prefer seeing a poet's progression. I am also an old fuddy-duddy who prefers formal poems to free verse. Yet, I found some mental gems to turn over and admire. Her poems are great--they're just not entirely my personal favorite type of poetry.

I will keep this collection on hand, and page through it in different seasons to see resonance in different weather.
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