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No Voyage and Other Poems

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67 pages

First published January 1, 1965

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About the author

Mary Oliver

87 books6,215 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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5 stars
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29 (46%)
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Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.3k followers
January 20, 2020

This is Mary Oliver’s first major collection, published in 1965, and few of the poems—at least considered stylistically—resemble her later work. Most of the poems here are iambic, often rhymed, and occasionally remind me more of poems by Millay, Frost and Emerson than they do of Mary Oliver herself. The themes of later years—the spiritual and aesthetic comforts of the natural world—are here, often in embryo, existing at the margins of these poems. Still, I think at least half of these poems have at least one bird in them, and that’s something. It wouldn’t be Mary Oliver without birds.

There is more loss here, more hints of sorrow, than Mary often allows herself in later poems, and the overall theme of the book—if there is one—is best articulated in the title poem, “No Voyage.” People, Mary says, don’t voyage to a desired destination, but instead move away from grief: “...they only leave/ Wherever they are, when the dying begins.” Because of this, she believes—at least psychologically—in staying right where she is: “Let the dying go on, and let me, if I can,/ Inherit from disaster before I move.”

I have picked out, not the most representative poems here—which are after all derivative—but instead a few shorter pieces I liked best and that reminded me of the Mary I know. I’ll begin with what I believe is the best known and only acknowledged classic from the collection:


Feeling the icy kick, the endless waves
Reaching around my life, I moved my arms
And coughed, and in the end saw land.

Somebody, I suppose,
Remembering that medieval maxim,
Had tossed me in,
Had wanted me to learn to swim,

Not knowing that none of us, who ever came back
From that long lonely fall and frenzied rising,
Ever learned anything at all
About swimming, but only
How to put off, one by one,
Dreams and pity, love and grace,-
How to survive in any place.


I have sat in the circle of the storyteller,
Spellbound by the legends,
Grieving for every ill-starred name
Defeated in battle, defeated in love,—

Yet I leave as hopeful as I came.

History has no counsel for the wanting blood;
Among the syllables of the storyteller’s voice
I hear the tick of the clock in the hall;

And quickly, my love, ride to me, over
This landscape where the heroes fall and fall.


Now there is no companion nor poem nor music
To go where I go
In hard boots and a jacket thin from labor
Down fields of sun.

Love began as the wing is in the egg;
To be patient now
Is to keep feathers under cloth
And walk in leather boots.

Now there is no companion, nor music nor poem,
To teach or tell-tale
Better than the pausing of birds at noon,
The silence and the locked wings
As the mad sun brims over.
Profile Image for David J.
217 reviews206 followers
October 4, 2017
Electric and completely unlike her later works. There aren't any gentle meditations here.
Profile Image for Wes Martin.
119 reviews4 followers
February 7, 2019
Magical. This is the first full volume of poetry I've read by Mary Oliver, and I look forward to reading many more. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Molly.
2,407 reviews
January 17, 2017
Sometimes the same author's name keeps coming up in weird places, and like an itch, you have to scratch it- i.e, go get a copy and read it. I'm glad I did- Mary Oliver's poetry is short in length, but so rich in meaning. She manages to pack quite a bit into each poem, and create such lovely turns of phrase that you can't help but turn it over and over in your mind. I'll happily read more of her.

Some favorite bits:
This is our failure, that in all the world/ Only the stricken have learned how to grieve.- "The Murderer's House"

From a room where the silence roars in my ears/I send you the black stanzas of myself/ In which I forget you, in order to endure. - "The Letter"

I stare upon your crumbling smile and keep you./ I do not love you now, but I remember. - "The Photograph"
Profile Image for Doug.
351 reviews6 followers
December 4, 2012
The edition I read was a 1965 reprint of an earlier work. Her style is here but the poems did not strike me like her later work has.
Profile Image for Roger DeBlanck.
Author 6 books117 followers
March 23, 2022
Mary Oliver’s first published poems from the mid 1960s show her poetical vision taking shape. Her work at this early stage of her career tends more towards verbose musings, sentimental observations, and complex declarations about the beauty and grandeur of the natural world. It is fascinating to see how her craft and style developed into a more rapturous vision that catapulted her to become one of America’s most cherished poets. Many of these early poems recount anecdotes, and in the piece titled “A Letter from Home,” she offers this sage observation: “She knows how people always plan\ To live their lives, and never do.”
Profile Image for Anne.
10 reviews
February 7, 2019
In light of the recent news of Mary Oliver's death, I've decided to revisit all of Mary Oliver's major collections of poetry. I consider myself a longtime fan of Oliver, but admit to not having read much of her extensive oeuvre. I really enjoyed this book of poems because it felt like a beginning, which I realize is an obvious statement because it is. She's in the process of finding her voice and it was exciting to see glimpses of her later more established style and thought life.
2,377 reviews
May 1, 2022
Wonderful collection of her earlier poems
Profile Image for Eric.
276 reviews4 followers
March 21, 2018
An amazing collection. As with each of her collections I've read, this contains a number of personal memories mixed with and often combined with exhortations regarding the wonder of the natural world. Her words carry an under current of longing: for home, for love, and for peace, even though she accepts the lack and loss of each in exchange for the wisdom that comes from suffering while living in a beautiful yet fallen world.

Below, I've included a piece that may very well be my favorite single poem from her works thus far. It connected with me with such complete and thorough representation of my own thoughts and desires that I couldn't help but feel, perhaps only for a moment, a true understanding of the heart that gave it voice.

A truly enjoyable collection that should be sipped gradually, preferably while walking on a forest trail.

A Dream of Trees

There is a thing in me that dreamed of trees,
A quiet house, some green and modest acres
A little way from every troubling town,
A little way from factories, schools, laments.
I would have time, I thought, and time to spare,
With only streams and birds for company,
To build out of my life a few wild stanzas.
And then it came to me, that so was death,
A little way away from everywhere.

There is a thing in me still dreams of trees.
But let it go. Homesick for moderation,
Half the world's artists shrink or fall away.
If any find solution, let him tell it.
Meanwhile I bend my heart toward lamentation
Where, as the times implore our true involvement,
The blades of every crisis point the way.

I would it were not so, but so it is.
Who ever made music of a mild day?
Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews

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