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Why I Wake Early

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The forty-seven new works in this volume include poems on crickets, toads, trout lilies, black snakes, goldenrod, bears, greeting the morning, watching the deer, and, finally, lingering in happiness. Each poem is imbued with the extraordinary perceptions of a poet who considers the everyday in our lives and the natural world around us and finds a multitude of reasons to wake early.

96 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

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About the author

Mary Oliver

117 books6,352 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
4,203 (56%)
4 stars
2,231 (30%)
3 stars
788 (10%)
2 stars
143 (1%)
1 star
42 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 737 reviews
Profile Image for Anna.
57 reviews10 followers
February 5, 2014
Mary Oliver continues to rip my heart out, cleanse it, and return it to me better than when she took it.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
April 7, 2021
RIP, Mary Oliver, 1/17/19

Summer's Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down --
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

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.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Profile Image for Kimber.
205 reviews57 followers
January 22, 2022
I loved this book for what it evokes in me: the still-and seemingly small-observations. She sees the world with a Zen precision. The whole book works smoothly together- rather than finding poems you like- each poem feels a necessary part of the whole. Here I can feel an evolution from the sparseness of haiku-the wonders that come from observing nature with a presence of mind. Mary passed this realm a short time ago. It's too bad I have just come to her poetry now.

"And what if you had wings
and flew

into the garden,
then fell
into the up-tipped

of a white flower."

Profile Image for Celia.
1,193 reviews152 followers
May 20, 2019
Mary Oliver, who wrote poetry AND prose for over a 60 year period, died recently at the age of 83. I had first read about Mary and her beautiful poetry in the book, End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. As Will's mother Maryann lay dying, he read her the poem Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?. God is mentioned more than once in this poem. Even though Maryann was breathing her last breaths, Will noticed perhaps a flutter in her eyes as she heard the word God.

As I read the beautiful poems in this book, my eyes did more than flutter; they wettened with tears. Mary is known for her poems - their thoughtfulness and introspection, the way they make you look at the natural world differently. And that is why Mary Oliver, and now I, wake early - to appreciate the beauty of the creation of God.

I plan to read as many of Mary's poetry books as I can. Her poetry collection, Devotions: the Selected Poems of Mary Oliver was her most recent and understandably very popular right now. I am no 12 on the waiting list. I might get it some time in October. So stay tuned for more Mary Oliver.

5 stars
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
4,933 reviews687 followers
December 4, 2018
Mary Oliver is able to connect with nature in a truly unique way. Very beautiful expression of our connection with the cycle of life.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
9,327 reviews399 followers
February 8, 2017
Gorgeous hymns to clouds, deer, snakes, beans... for atheists, Buddhists, Christians.... Accessible and challenging simultaneously so it doesn't matter whether you're new to poetry or not. Not a dud in the lot. I can't choose favorites, but maybe give you samples. *The Dovekie* is wonderful, but you have to read the whole (1 page) thing.

from: _*The Pinewoods*_

Just before dawn
three deer came walking...

I did not really see them.
I came later, and saw their tracks
on the empty sand.
But I don't believe

only to the edge
of what my eyes actually see
in the kindness of the morning,
do you?

And my life,
which is my body surely,
is also something more--
isn't yours?

from: _*Freshen the Flowers, She Said*_

... It took, to do this,
perhaps fifteen minutes.
Fifteen minutes of music
with nothing playing.
Profile Image for ZOË.
194 reviews169 followers
February 27, 2023
3.75 So, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to start waking up earlier and finally be able to call myself a Morning Person™️. I thought, considering that I also want to read more poetry in 2023, what better way to kill two birds with one stone than to start every morning with a poem about mornings?

Now, my plan to wake up at 8 am every morning did fail within the first week, but I was happy to continue reading these poems each day because oh my God??? Mary Oliver???? A genius!!!!!

The way she is able to weave her spirituality and appreciation for the natural world together was so seamless and has helped me see nature through a new lens over the past month. I love this collection to the ends of the Earth, and can’t wait to read more of Oliver’s poetry in the future!
Profile Image for Maria.
622 reviews102 followers
January 15, 2016

The word reminds me of the early hours when there are no thoughts of rush, when every single thing takes its time. It feels as if the world has been rehearsing this moment for perfection. Cue the sunrise. Cue the first singing voice of the day. Choir, you are up next.

Every little thing sounds so loud in the silence of the morning. Peace is palpable. There's a sense of plenitude. Your breath falls in rhythm with the surroundings. The air smells of possibilities, of new beginnings.

It's both breathtaking and reinvigorating. If you wanted to, you could reach out and touch the sky.

That is how Why I Wake Early made me feel.

held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us.“

The poems in this collection are longer when compared to the ones in Felicity. They seem more pondered, as if we are walking in the woods with Mary Oliver, our eyes closed as we listen to what she sees, to how she sees. There's no fear, only trust. She feels so gentle, so kind, so alive... so full of affection and gratitude.
“Some things, say the wise ones who know everything,
are not living. I say,
you live your life your way and leave me alone.“

A cry of joy that breaks the silence disguised as a deep breath of the morning air. It's absolutely mesmerising.
“and what the soul is, also

I believe I will never quite know.
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing
but looking, and touching, and loving,
which is the way I walked on,
through the pale-pink morning light.“

Poetry of the closed eyes, I called it in my journal. A trip down a memory lane that becomes ours.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,823 reviews107 followers
May 4, 2020
In celebration of National Poetry Month (April), my partner and I decided to each write a daily haiku. It was a fun and restorative way to process some of our COVID-19 quarantine emotions. The other fun thing I did was read this collection. It might well be the first completed collection of Oliver's I've read - I've dabbled in her works here and there over the years. I read these poems over several days before bed. I read each one twice. Once to understand what it was about, and the second time to let the language and imagery soak in. There was at least a line in every single poem that gave me pause. A wonderful meditation on nature and stillness and actually seeing the world around us. Lovely.
Profile Image for Ann☕.
292 reviews
May 10, 2022
This is a nice compilation of forty-seven poems, all about nature, botanicals, the weather and spirituality. I looked forward to reading some of these works in the evening, before I drifted off to sleep. I'm sharing one poem which felt significant to me, as so many places are currently experiencing drought conditions.

After rain after many days without rain,
it stays cool, private and cleansed, under the trees,
and the dampness there, married now to gravity,
falls branch to branch, leaf to leaf, down to the ground
where it will disappear—but not, of course, vanish
except to our eyes. The roots of the oaks will have their share,
and the white threads of the grasses, and the cushion of moss;
a few drops, round as pearls, will enter the mole’s tunnel;
and soon so many small stones, buried for a thousand years,
will feel themselves being touched.
Profile Image for Becky.
289 reviews14 followers
December 31, 2017
Her writing makes me pause and savor. To contemplate more deeply and breathe in. To want to write about the beauty in this life, or at least take notice of it. One day I want to live in the country again and lay down in the grass with my children and watch tiny bugs on waving grass. Until then, I'll try to look up at the sky more often, to know how things feel, to love the shadows and light on the walls, and to be alive in the bright wind and the everyday things that are given.
Profile Image for Sofia.
251 reviews
September 25, 2021
I never read poetry but I decided to try Mary Oliver cause it seemed like something I might like and, wow, I was correct
I read a few poems for my cat every night before sleep and she enjoyed it too!!
Mary Oliver's words are beautiful and lyrical, and I might have cried :)

"Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last! What a task
to ask of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours."
Profile Image for Katsmewsings .
550 reviews12 followers
September 22, 2020
Exceptionally calming in these crazy days. Exactly what I needed to clear my head and remember the majesty of our planet.
Profile Image for James Murphy.
982 reviews161 followers
January 18, 2010
I've read and enjoyed lots of Oliver's poetry. I'd never noticed her writing from a religious viewpoint before. Or else I didn't remember, it being a few years since I've read her. I don't hold it against a writer if she articulates her faith. But a fact of poetry written from a religious impulse is that a secular reader can't or may not appreciate, ultimately, what the poet wishes to express. However beautifully written, it doesn't always make for interesting poetry. Why Mary Oliver wakes early is to immerse herself in nature, a nature she sees as a divine gift. These are intense moments of solitary pleasure. They're about doing such simple things as watching the sun rise, arranging flowers in a vase, or watching a hawk float on air currents above a marsh. They're breathlessly personal paeans to the world she inhabits. Rapturous, yet gentle and lovely, too. It's a characteristic of Oliver's poetry that it's gentle and accepting of its surroundings. She writes fairly uncomplicated poems in which she describes the ways things in her everyday delight her. You have to like her welcoming of the world. My favorites here are those in which she doesn't sing the divine, poems in which a bean is only a bean, the wind is a tool of the marsh hawk rather than a gift to it, in which the gladness inspired by the Carolina wren is the good news of the world. But wherever these poems come from, they're beautiful.
Profile Image for Jay.
174 reviews14 followers
December 9, 2018
4 1/2 stars, really. I’m a late-comer to Mary Oliver (Thank you, Terry Glaspey). Lots of “nature“ in these poems, especially birds (see below). Even though I have lived in Florida for 31 years and, before then, in Oregon for almost 7 years, I remain a New Englander at heart. Fall, snow, cranberry bogs, pine woods, beaches in winter, bare trees, goldenrod in late summer are in my DNA. My parents lived year-round on Cape Cod for 25 years, so her descriptions of the world at the far end of the Cape (Provincetown in her case), were easy for me to envision. Her poems in this slim volume (47) have a fresh and meditative quality that palm trees, pelicans and perpetual summer (don’t get me wrong: I’ve lived here for 31 years for a reason) somehow just don’t quite capture. This isn’t “Four Quartets”, but there’s nothing “cutesie” or trite about these poems. I’m looking forward to reading another book of hers that I purchased, “New and Selected Poems”.

Goldfinches - “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?”
Kingfisher - “Spring At Blackwater: I Go Through The Lessons Already Learned”
Sparrow, eider duck, gull - “Look and See”
Marsh hawk - “The Marsh Hawk”
Snow geese - “Snow Geese”
Dovekie - “The Dovekie”
Heron - “Many Miles”
Yellowlegs - “Yellowlegs”
(Barred?) owl - “The Best I Could Do”
Carolina wren - “The Wren from Carolina”
Profile Image for Deb.
1,224 reviews56 followers
August 1, 2017
This is my first Mary Oliver poetry and I am sure it will not be my last. Her poems in this volume are beautiful, accessible, and tied to an appreciation of nature. I checked out the library e-book, but this is a collection I would like to own. I've been trying to live more meaningfully and with more gratitude for the world around me and Oliver's poems--like the titular one below capture that feeling for me.
We should all start the day in happiness and in kindness.

"Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness."

--Mary Oliver
Profile Image for Gail.
22 reviews5 followers
March 28, 2011
Just more beautiful poetry by the great old woman who, oh-my-goodness, just makes words sing out such lush pictures of our world. She writes poems that share with us those clear, precise images of such beauty--or the tragedy found in the natural world--and her sense of them: the joy, the sweetness, the knowing of immediate, sublime pleasure in something that is only here for just this moment. But oh, what a moment. Captured, in Mary Oliver's words. It's like she writes with a crystal pen tip, and the resonance of the crystal molecules go into the lines. They glint off the pages, and sing. And there's such peace in them. Yes, today, the world is so, so good, and here's this little sliver for us to always go back to.
Profile Image for cameron.
145 reviews707 followers
May 13, 2021
(i don’t rate poetry collections) easily my favorite poet. this collection is about the natural world ranging from crickets to bears. it is quiet and beautiful and reminds you to slow down and remember what our earth has to offer.
Profile Image for Kara Belden.
176 reviews34 followers
March 4, 2017
3.5 nowhere near as deeply touching as Truro Bear, but enjoyable and worth the time nonetheless.
Profile Image for Holly Minion.
185 reviews4 followers
August 11, 2021
Mary Oliver is my favorite poet. Love her work. This collection of poems is so soothing and peaceful.
Profile Image for Dara.
382 reviews12 followers
December 27, 2022
Reading Mary Oliver is like re-experiencing everything holy I have ever experienced; the awe of a cathedral, the glistening of a first snow, the light of a smile that speaks love. What a treasure.
Profile Image for Cynthia Egbert.
2,151 reviews26 followers
September 26, 2017
I just have to turn to Mary Oliver again and again when I need to be refreshed and I am at a place in my life when I really need to be washed over with beauty in words as only Mary Oliver can do.

I have a favourite quote that I will be using over and over: "All things are inventions of holiness. Some more rascally than others."

These are my favourites poems...

I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It's like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

What Was Once the Largest Shopping Center in Northern Ohio Was Built Where There Had Been a Pond I Used to Visit Every Summer Afternoon
Loving the earth, seeing what has been done to it,
I grow sharp, I grow cold.

Where will the trilliums go, and the coltsfoot?
Where will the pond lilies go to continue living
their simple, penniless lives, lifting
their faces of gold?

Impossible to believe we need so much
as the world wants us to buy.
I have more clothes, lamps, dishes, paper clips
than I could possibly use before I die.

Oh, I would like to live in an empty house,
with vines for walls, and a carpet of grass.
No planks, no plastic, no fiberglass.

And I suppose sometime I will.
Old and cold I will lie apart
from all this buying and selling, with only
the beautiful earth in my heart.

Why wonder about the loaves and fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.

The Old Poets of China
Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
It offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, there crept into the pale mist.

I see or hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

Song of the BuildersOn a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –

a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope

it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.

The Soul at Last
The Lord's terrifying kindness has come to
It was only a small silvery thing - say a piece
of silver cloth, or a thousand spider webs
woven together, or a small handful of aspen
leaves, with their silver backs shimmering.
And it came leaping out of the closed coffin;
it flew into the air, it danced snappingly
around the church rafters, it vanished through
the ceiling.
I spoke there, briefly, of the loved one gone. I
gazed at the people in the pews, some of them
weeping. I knew I must, someday, write this

Profile Image for Connie S.
42 reviews6 followers
July 31, 2018
I really enjoyed Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. This is one of those books that draws you in. You can literally imagine and hear the nature that surrounds you. A book that I will return to again and again. For all the nature and poetry lovers out there, this book doesn’t disappoint.
Profile Image for Eliza ♡.
174 reviews22 followers
March 19, 2022
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving,

Mary Oliver's poetry is so healing, like a gentle hug for the soul. Her obvious love of the world and the creatures in it make me want to stand outside and just breathe everything in. I don't do that enough, I think, but she makes me want to do it every day. How wonderful an artist, to be able to share her tenderness like that.
Profile Image for Eric.
282 reviews4 followers
January 18, 2019
A few favorites:

Some excerpts:

There are things you can't reach. But
you can reach out to them, all day long.

The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.

And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier.

- from Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?

What do I know.
But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given,
to see what is plain; what the sun
lights up willingly; for example - I think this
as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch-
the suitability of the field for the daises, and the
daises for the field.

- from Daisies

And, a whole:

What Was Once the Largest Shopping Center in Northern Ohio Was Built Where There Had Been a Pond I Used to Visit Every Summer Afternoon

Loving the earth, seeing what has been done to it
I grow sharp, I grow cold.

Where will the trilliums go, and the coltsfoot?
Where will the pond lilies go to continue living
their simple, penniless lives, lifting
their faces of gold?

Impossible to believe we need so much
as the world wants us to buy.
I have more clothes, lamps, dishes, paper clips
than I could possibly use before I die.

Oh, I would like to live in an empty house,
with vines for walls, and a carpet of grass.
No planks, no plastic, no fiberglass.

And I suppose sometime I will.
Old and cold I will lie apart
from all this buying and selling, with only
the beautiful earth in my heart.
Profile Image for MacKenzie.
151 reviews1 follower
January 10, 2023
After only finishing 2 of Mary Oliver’s poetry collections, I’m already dreading the point when I finish her long list of work. I don’t know how to describe the feeling of reading her poems. It’s grounding, but more than that. Whatever it is, I’ll be chasing that feeling for years to come.
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