Mary Oliver —
Listening to the World

Often quoted, but rarely interviewed, Mary Oliver is one of our greatest and most beloved poets. She’s just released a new volume, Felicity, at the age of 80. And so we’re revisiting the interview she granted us earlier this year on the wisdom of the world, the salvation of poetry, and the life behind her writing.

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has received the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She has published over 25 books of poetry and prose including Dream Work, A Thousand Mornings, and A Poetry Handbook. Her latest book of poetry is Felicity.

Pertinent Posts

A praise song for the holiness that's visible — in the trees, the mountains, and the rivers. Permission to lean into wonder and to linger in beauty incarnate.

Poems You Heard and Others You Didn't

The Poet Mary Oliver Reads Her Poems

Mary Oliver read five poems for us in her interview. Listen to her reading of the beloved poem "Wild Geese," and discover new favorites.

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Mary Oliver with her beloved dog Percy.

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I have loved Mary Oliver's poetry since a dear friend gave me a signed copy of her book of poems, American Primitive in 1985; and I have loved Krista Tippett and her show since a dear friend introduced me to her several years ago. And almost a year ago I had an email exchange with producer, Trent Gilliss, and he told me they working on this interview. And when my father passed away and we held a memorial for him just this last fall, we read Mary Oliver's, "On Blackwater Woods" as part of that service.. So it is a wonderful realized dream to have these two spiritual teachers sit and discuss attention, devotion, and the mystical and spiritual revelations of poetry. I loved the segment with the shared voice of Ms. Tippett's 12 year old daughter reading Mary Oliver's wonderful poem. Thank you so much for this. It's the best thing in the world today...this year.

I love Elizabeth's reply. Genuine, heartfelt, generous. Lovely. A nice gift for all at On Being.

The Soundcloud file "I Happened to be Standing" caught me by surprise this morning. I've found myself returning to prayer in the past year and though I don't understand why I need it, this poem summed up exactly where I am: "so I just listened, my pen in the air"

Mary Oliver is so special and real. She helps one pay attention. And to be engaged as she is every day. This was a very special interview.

Simply beautiful. Thank you.

I have used Mary Oliver's poetry as readings as a Justice of the Peace in the Provincetown area of Cape Cod. This interview was simply beautiful. I had heard she had moved and couldn't quite fathom "Florida", but I understand she can probably now spend more time outdoors, as I sit here and look outside at the gorgeous, frigid, landscape. Love you, Mary!

Beautiful! Thank you, Krista for sharing. As a gal from New England, now living in So. Florida myself, I tell people, you can take the gal out of New England, but you can't take New England out of the gal.

I love her work , I love the audio reading as well as reading it myself, i can picture what she is saying in her poems .. beautiful

Reading Mary Oliver is Joy Forever.
Her poems are most wonderful places to visit.

So grateful for this interview. Oddly, I came to know Mary Oliver's work very late in life. What a gift it has been for me...her works. At my age I thought "falling in love" was just a thing of my past. In reading her work... each poem I read... that deep aching feeling that one associates with love always always comes to me...deep in my heart..chest. I thank her.

One of the most enjoyable and best interviews you have done. Simply wonderful and Mary Oliver is eccentrically beautiful.her poetry divine.

I have loved Mary Oliver's poetry since I first heard one of her poems - maybe 16 or 17 years ago at a writing conference. I regularly use "The Journey" when I am leading expressive arts groups with people in addiction treatment. Also, her connection with nature and her observations on life and death...her words go straight to my heart every time.

Listening to Mary Oliver: a wonderful answer of what to do with some of my wild and precious life.

Thank you so much for this beautiful interview with this sublime poet who so many of us have loved and been inspired by. I believe the third poem she may have meant regarding the three most well known ones may be "The Journey".(in addition to "Wild Geese" and "The Summer Day") I am a yoga teacher and use her words regularly in class. What a treasured gift she is to all.

A gift.
Thank you Mary and thank you Krista.

I love Mary Oliver's poem from Dog Songs about how you share your house with a dog but you do not own her any more than you own the rain or trees. It helps me to remember this when I am impatient or having trouble with my own dog.

A dream come true. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!

Personally,Mary Oliver's description of how creation was and is her sanctuary and liberator - how she saved her own life - is a gift, healing in her story for many including me. The non-profit for which I work, offers a series named "Mystics on Mondays". For the last four years, we have had a three-week series in January using Mary's poetry to help us listen and pay attention to our lives. Thank you for this conversation and all the storying telling you do on On Being!

I stopped at her house one year to give her a photo of the Living Room of Edna St. Vincent Millay's house at Steepletop. Mary pretended that she wasn't Mary Oliver! Very private person to say the least. I was a friend of Norma Millay Ellis who I miss terribly. I still have the photo for Mary which I know will mean much to her. I had my happiest times in that Living Room and slept in Vincent's bedroom!

Oh Mary Oliver. How I love thee.

Thank you for this wonderful interview, Krista!

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for your notebook always being open.

I loved Mary Oliver and loved your young daughter's reading, dear Krista. Both were a blessing - you too. Lydia Holsten

Krista I listen to you every sunday..This one is priceless.

ThankYou for sharing this interview.

Thank you, Krista Tippett,for bringing Mary Oliver in my life. How beautiful !
Poetry is something that MOVE YOU INSIDE and bring a little more of the world to YOU

This is what I awoke to, on a misty gray day. The cat and I, Mary. How very lovely!

Too many Sunday mornings I've missed On Being, but this Sunday morning, for reasons I cannot define, I was drawn,before coffee, and there was Mary Oliver talking with you, Krista Tippett. I'd missed your introduction but within seconds I knew...I was hearing Mary Oliver. Like reaching for a handhold when falling, I held on with such gratitude for this rare chance to listen in...that's how it felt to me - "listening in" - a gift in every sense & I thank you both. Once is not enough: thank you thank you thank you.

Until this morning I had never heard of Mary Oliver. How wonderful to awaken with Mary and Krista in conversation. Such lovely poems, such a superb interview! Thank you both. Namaste.

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You
Our national treasure before she passes
Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You

I started reading poetry as a teenager after picking up one of Mary Oliver's books. So loved the poem "WhenDeath Comes" that I wrote several lines on my wall!!
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

so glad she decided to do this interview. Thanks

so important to save

I usually listen to the interviews Sunday mornings on WBEZ and was disappointed when WBEZ did not carry them for a while. Thoughts related to spiritual life usually touch me at a deeper place than the conventional worship service I attend. Mary Oliver is not a poet whom I know, but I definitely will get some of her works from the library. I understand her reference to Rumi. I wish I would have become acquainted with her work earlier, in literature or yoga classes.

I could be wrong but I think the "third poem" that "has become part of 'the lexicon'" is "Spring" ? But also maybe "The Sun" which was important for me because it made me love poetry again, made me feel that I could and would always have faith,and made me cry when Mary read it at the Boston Public Library back in oh nineteen ninety-something. Thank you both for making my day today.

Mary Oliver's poetry has lifted me up.

A friend gave me a copy of Mary Oliver's poetry after my husband died. I have loved her poetry ever since. What a treat it was to hear her interviewed by Krista Tibbet and hear her reading her poetry.

Great interview. Only wish Ms. Oliver could have talked about Dog Songs.

I enjoyed listening to the interview with Mary Oliver on my local PBS station WBEZ this morning. I tried to listen to the interview again this afternoon but could not get the program to download and play.

I have been listening to you for ten years and reading Mary Oliver for one week. Thank you for the convergence today.

There are so many times in life when you hear or read something just at the time that you need it, and that was true this morning when I heard this interview. I am a hospice nurse and was up early getting ready for work, and was so incredibly grateful to start the day with this wonderful woman whose poetry I have loved so many years. "The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac" poems made me cry. Thank you, Mary Oliver, for the joy your words have given us, and thank you for a line in your poem "It Was Early" that has become my personal mantra: "Sometimes I need/only to stand/wherever I am/to be blessed."

I too love that line. Thank you for invoking it.

I first heard of Mary Oliver years ago when Garrison Keillor read "In Blackwater Woods" on the Writer's Almanac. I raced to the library to get her selected poems and sat at a stoplight reading that poem again and again, to the aggravation of the drivers behind me. Since then, you know the rest. And when I introduced her poems to a friend with "Mockingbirds," well, you know the rest.

My first encounter with Krista and On Being happened yesterday during a busdrive through rural Cambodia listening and watching as the landscape passed by. What a perfect introduction to this world of treasures and stories! The podcasts have instantly become my travel companions during this journey I'm on. Thank you Krista and Mary for instilling hope, excitement and new contemplation to my life. Thank you for playing your part. With love, E

I have had Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" pinned next to my computer at home for years now. This interview was wonderful, and many parts spoke to me in various ways (just as her poetry does). Her words have often struck a chord with me, as if she finds ways to put down on paper exactly what is swirling around in my mind. This was a great first introduction to On Being for me.

I have loved for so many the poetry of Mary Oliver. Hearing the interview is probably the high point of my winter. I shall not be long going back to them and I will see new ideas in them now.

Perhaps a God-incident (no coincident) Sunday AM, when Mary Oliver talked to Krista, and mentioned the grasshopper in her lovely poem "The Summer Day". The selected readings for that morning in many Anglican churches included Isaiah 40:21-31, paraphrased by me: "Have you not heard? It is he - - - - - above the circle of the earth- - - - inhabitants are like grasshoppers." Well, it all spoke to me.

Before listening to the Mary Oliver interview, I did not know about her poetry. After listening, I immediately went out and bought 3 of her books. I want my children to know of her writing. I want them to share in Mary Oliver's sense of wonder and observation of nature.
The interview gave me an hour of being centered in a way I have not been for very long. Thank you

It does not surprise me to know now of her insufficient childhood; the splinters left over always fester again and again, but cannot be removed truly, by any means. Her joy then, reserved yet revealed- must rival great sadness and for this, her words quite often promoted by the beauty of the world and not so much the ache-do heal much of the festering. (I sensed this in the poetry, I wondered...took it for granted and was made better for the taking.) Very grateful for the listening today, thank you.

I have been moved by Mary Oliver's poetry and her soulfulness ever since a friend sent me "The Journey" several years ago. She is truly a gift in the world and this interview is such a gift on a winter's day. Blessings to you Mary, and to you, Krista, for this special conversation. Thank you so much.

I have just been well fed. Thank you.

Mary has touched my heart and life in a multitude of ways.
As she has lived on Cape Cod for several decades - so too, have I lived on Martha's Vineyard.
I love the way Mary's poetry provides glimpses into her life in Provincetown. I feel her visual and mindful reflections help us to appreciate the environs of Provincetown with greater depth of place. Glimpses that have helped me to see "Mary's Provincetown" each time I visit.
As founder of the Martha's Vineyard Poetry Society, I have read Mary's poetry at our public readings and often quote her verses.
Thank you, Mary, for giving us the gift of your poetry.
I will cherish you all my life.

What a gift!! Thank you, to Mary Oliver for speaking w/ Krista and to On Being for making this happen. I love this show and listen to it on my morning walks- I have to stop repeatedly and take notes of the best quotes. Thanks again for a great interview Krista. Mary Oliver has been a favorite of mine for years-- and it was indeed precious to hear her recite some poems and hear about her life. Such a rare treat. Namaste!

Krista, I enjoyed the Mary Oliver interview, but I wonder if you are aware of how many times you talked over Mary and/or cut her off (I don't mean you were rude, because of course you're not) just as she was about to respond. I so wish your "subjects" were given the floor more readily, or at least that the spotlight were on them for a greater percentage of the time. Just a suggestion.

Thank you Krista for inviting such a great poet. I did not know about her either and I just ordered one of her books.I can't believe I missed this! the opportunity to meet you in person! I worked for WLRN as a volunteer for almost 9 years! and I love going there but now I am in Orlando... I will re-blog this episode on my spiritual blog!
Thank you so much for your contribution to enlighten the world with these episodes.

Such a pleasure to listen to Mary Oliver speak her poetry, so real , so recognizable, so full of love...

Mary, your poetry is beautiful. Thank you.

Mary Oliver has done all of us a favor, in this interview, by revealing what must be her deepest pain: that her father sexually abused her, when she was a child. This is what she described in the third person (“she”) in her poem, “Rage.” Read the poem (you will find it online) if you think you can handle the horror. The beauty of her poetry of nature and joy has this background of desperate pain. “Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.” She has known real (not “poetic”) despair. This is not a charmed life, this is a life dredged up from the deepest difficulty. All of her poems appear in a different light, against this background. May we all support one another in our efforts to deal with our deepest pain.

Question: Can Krista(or anyone) identify the music that played in the background during the readings of Mary Oliver in her interview?
Loved it.

I discovered Mary Oliver in later life. What a gift to compliment my franciscan spirituality.blessings& gratitude. jude

Have listened to both the edited and unedited episodes a few times her and her poetry....and Krista's very thoughtful and gentle interview style is perfect...Just beautiful.

Forever thankful to my friend, Paulus, for reciting "Goldenrod"that very first time I heard him speak in 1993 .

MaryOliver's poems were read in my art classes, for kindergartners up through teachers' workshops. In reading a new book, I have to look up and recite parts of poems to my seat neighbors, while waiting for concerts to begin, to the people near me on the T. Most always smiles are the result and people asking me who the poet is. My poetry group up here, where I now make my home, sort of grimaced when I spoke Mary Oliver's name, but reading one of her poems, one of my favorites (there are many) did bring smiles and recognition. So much for the dilettantes!

Thank you Paulus, and thank you, Mary Oliver for having this site on Facebook.

I have loved and appreciated Mary's work for many years. The 2 poems that still resonant deeply with me are The Journey and Wild Geese. Right now mending my life is a priority. With gratitude to you Mary for your gifts of words .

In September of 1999,my youngest sister lay dying of breast cancer. In one of her last lucid moments we discussed her memorial. Knowing how much I loved poetry she asked me to read a special poem. For days I was at a loss,in spite of shelves upon shelves of poetry.Nothing seemed right. Nothing seemed specific to her. When I received the call that she had passed I almost immediately went to my book shelves. As if guided by an outside force my eye was drawn to a slim volume that, I swear, I never noticed before. I opened it up without even looking at the cover. There on page 52 was POEM. The volume was Mary Oliver's DREAM WORK.I don't remember how I even acquired the book. But from the day I read POEM at my sister's funeral, and every day thereafter, to day I write this, I have read an Oliver poem. It is part of my spiritual life.

Hated all peotry before this episode. Before it was over, before I knew it, I had begun composing a bit of my own. That's transformative media!! I know own a copy of Mary's Red Bird. Can't wait to absorb it. Thank you.

I too am a poet. I especially enjoyed the brevity of getting to the point. Ms. Mary writes of what is and then vanishes to allow the reader to develop what they will. I admire her. If curious, my work is available @ Barnes and Noble The Phrase~painter Poeteer.

Hear of the star heart in the Poetry Handbook, the courtship of cautious partners who become "convivial listeners." Sacred, wishing for community, out of the self yet for the self and a feeding. What sort of blood pulses that deeply in this "wild silky side of ourselves"? I don't like Blake telling me the poet "takes dictation." I prefer Oliver saying she's written a few poems she's never changed like the one when her dog PERCY came back: that cannot be dictation. It is the movement and discipline, the sorting in the process. The poverty that yields to nature's lace crying for a moral imagination...Loved the tape. Thank you for such wonderful interrogation of the committed poet.

Am grateful tohave listen Mary Oliver reading her inspiringand life giving poems.Ican feel she reading infront of me. Amazing PRESENCE. Thank you!

Life. In all its beauty and ugliness .mostly beauty

Krista Tippett does a very nice job creating a conversation, and the conversation I listened to was with Mary Oliver. A poet who does not care to publicize her self as one. She has published 25 different books and now lives in Florida. Her poetry began in her childhood, as an escape to get away from a horrible childhood and household. She began walking through the woods when pen and paper in hand and began writing. She still prefers to be on the outside of buildings and she still walks around with pen and paper in hand, she is now in her 70's.

Krista Tippett and Mary Oliver read several of her poems throughout the conversation. They were shorter than I expected and very thought provoking. She questions, as I do now, what happens to us after our last day on earth. This seemed a very fitting topic with this unit. She refers to a soul as a silky wild part of ourselves. When she was questioned about this, she implied that she felt that the word "soul" has become misused with toda's quick reference about it. She says she knows there is something after our last day because she feels there is "something more than all of us are". She doesn't consider herself as practicing any one religion, she went to Sunday school as most kids did, but she couldn't join. She had issues excepting the resurection. She mentioned she loved poems, by someone I can't remember, who wrote from his Muslim faith. She has a connection to them.

She does not do many interviews or conversations, but was lovely to listen to. She was very humble and has great preponderances on life now and after. She even discussed about reincarnation a little bit. She feels that the soul has energy that changes into other things. I wasn't totally clear of her specific meaning, but she used the example of a long loved pet, a dog, that is buried under a rose bush. She believes he becomes part of something else - the rose bush. I don't think I was swayed by the example, but I like the idea that our souls become part of something else more than the idea our souls become someone else.

I really enjoyed this poems, especially this one:

The Summer Day
Mary Oliver

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 down 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?

Thank you for quoting this one.
Our one wild and precious life is as a part of an amazing web-of-life, a million species, two billion years. Mary Oliver's heart has been open to and connected to this mysterious and profound web-of-life since she was a little girl.
She's one of our most gorgeous common, ordinary, everyday mystics.
Mystic simply means someone in touch with the real web-of-life on a daily basis.
Love takes so many forms.
Mary brings us to the real web, the real mother-of-us-all.

I start my journaling early in the mornings and on Sundays I love to listen to your show, pausing as I write to take in what is happening. Today I started listening on my way to Starbucks and wondered who is this woman you were interviewing? She seemed hard to pin down, to elaborate, and I thought it was a harder interview than usual. Then you said it was Mary Oliver and I was surprised, because I love her poetry so much. As I listened to the show I was touched so many times by the poetry in its hard-hitting simplicity. It strikes me that Mary helps us learn the value of being together, of not having to analyze what cannot be worded anyway, but of communicating through being in the presence of. In doing so it releases something that otherwise was caught in silence but now is felt in the flow of our experience. Thanks so much for your wonderful work, Krista!

Breathless on Keats, breathless on Whitman, now breathless on Oliver. Thank you for a pitch-perfect look into Mary's life and work, for which there should be a single word, not two.

The interview with Ms. Oliver struck a chord with me. Her words, her poems, her voice all brought to me a sense of what I always feel in the outside, in the woods, in the mountains, kayaking, camping, watching the night sky. The sense of peace and wonderment and curiosity and satisfaction, that, at that time....all is right with my world.

before my second cup of coffee Mary's notion of being had some appeal; fully awake I'm not quite ready to swap the boisterous calamity of consciousness for existence as a part of some wave.

I am filled with gratitude. Thank you, Mary Oliver, for allowing this interview and introducing me to your work. Your words speak to me with such clarity; I have been given a wonderful gift.

Sometimes talking about how to make poetry really doesn't stack up to the poetry spoken alone. No offense, but her "lessons" and the conversation picking it apart turned me off a bit. Forgive me if that seems overly critical, I love On Being.

I had the honor of studying with Mary Oliver at Bennington College. I am a Brooklyn based choreographer and use 'Wild Geese' in a solo. Here is a link with poem starting at 16'20

I hoped this interview would not stop. It was so beautiful! Thank you very much to you both !

Has this already been said...
I'd love to have Ms. Tippet's daughter's reading as separate recording.
Precious to hear this poem in a child's voice.
Really brings it home for me.

Would like to introduce Elizabeth's poetry to VOWW's members spread across 138+ countries ... Strong voices for the "voiceless" !!

Mary's poem that has resonated with me for more than fifteen years describes a Florida swamp, an egret and an alligator. The final lines are: ".......death comes before the rolling away of the stone." It was a frightening time for me, when I read those words. A health scare. I read that poem, quite by chance (I had been reading Mary's poems for years before that) and my fear vanished. I've not been afraid like that ever again. The poem resonates with me, and reminds me, always, to trust in the Resurrection.

My concern is that Mary Oliver's wisdom is too often reserved for the "mature," when, in fact, it needs to find its way into every single classroom everywhere. In Mark Edmundson's words, she is one of those who produces works that can be lived. In response to his question of great works... "Can you live it?"...a resounding yes. We need to visit and revisit her poems and ruminations regularly and not wait until our young people are "old enough" to truly understand them. Our young deserve her guidance more than ever.

This was the first episode of On Being that I've ever listened to, and it was a delight, through and through. I've only been acquainted with Mary Oliver's work, partly due to the limited artistic scope of the communities I've been a part of, and partly due to my reservations with artists who I believe to have Christian ties that may inform their art more heavily than their creativity. Mary Oliver, her work, and her interaction with Krista Tippett shamelessly explores the line between religion and the spiritual insights one may gain through avenues such as the creative process, familial relations, and nature. I want to express thanks to Ms. Tippett for drawing out relatable ideas that transcend organized religious platforms, and for providing a playing field accessible to people of differing belief backgrounds to share common experiences.

I have come back to this episode several times as she is rich in a pulse beyond what confines human society. It's like medicine listening to the conversation and to Oliver read her work. Thank you so much.

- A Traveler and Observer

I'm from Istanbul, Turkey. I'm embarrassed to say that it's the first time I've heard about Mary Oliver . Beautiful poems, I'll definetely buy her books. I think a Thousand Morning and Dog Songs. It's not easy to read or to listen to poems if they are not written in your mother tongue. But as I was listening to her poems, I felt I'm hearing them in my own language! I mean I felt that much :)
Also thank you to Krista Tippett for the lovely interview!

Mary Oliver

O to have mothered you, Mary Oliver!
Lifted you to the very face of God,
A vision you would find no discomfort in,
So reconciled, reflective, awed.
O to have danced with you on tiptoe!
Show you your power from the start,
Enable song without rage’s reckoning,
Without its gouges in who you are.
But it is not necessary! Beauty’s triumphed!
Energy waylaid its deadening brood.
You played with the Word and so transcended!
You have kissed the lips of Good.

O to have mothered you, Mary Oliver!
For I know well what darkness does,
Carving caverns within our bodies,
Insisting focus be on what was.
With fierce force we’ve felled its power,
Evil laughs not at our pencil’s mark,
For we’ve described our own resurrection
And given new meaning to demons’ scars.
For our words were born out of this struggle,
This insistence evil not take up the stage,
Metaphor to one ravaged body
Refusing to stay in that man-made grave!

O to have mothered you, Mary Oliver!
Have you turn ‘round and mother me.
Together our words defy darkness clinging,
And threaten every hollowed vacancy!
Peace be to you, O fellow poet,
Whose shadows have laid down their ghosts,
Whose words take others on sacred journeys,
Whose eyes can see far more than most.
Spend your days chasing what energy embodies,
A spirit who parented when others would not.
Who in great love lifted little girls over,
And let them climb up to see visions of God.


As I finished this poem, inspired by the On Being interview, two geese flew by the window with their raucous, joyful honks!

Mary Oliver

I've lost track of how many times I have returned to this episode to listen again and again to Mary's voice and wisdom. I am grateful for the ways in which her words have encouraged me over the years and reminded me to pay attention. This is beautiful.