Poems by Mary Oliver

Here are my favorite poems from The Truro Bear and Other Adventures: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver

Black Snake

I startled a young black snake: he
flew over the grass and hid his face

under a leaf, the rest of him in plain sight.
Little brother, often I’ve done the same.


There is, all around us,
this country
of original fire.

You know what I mean.

The sky, after all, stops at nothing, so something
has to be holding
our bodies
in its rich and timeless stables or else
we would fly away.

Off Stellwagen
off the Cape,
the humpbacks rise. Carrying their tounge
of barnacles and joy
they leap through the water, they nuzzle back under it
like children
at play.

They sing, too.
And not for any reason
you can’t imagine.

Three of them
rise to the surface near the bow of the boat,
then dive
deeply, their huge scarred flukes
ripped to the air.

We wait, not knowing
just where it will happen; suddenly
they smash through the surface, someone begins
shouting for joy and you realize
it is yourself as they surge
upward and you see for the first time
how huge they are, as they breach,
and dive, and breach again
through the shining blue flowers
of the split water and you see them
for some unbelievable
part of a moment against the sky—
like nothing you’ve ever imagined—
like the myth of the fifth morning galloping
out of darkness, pouring
heavenward, spinning; then

they crash back under those black silks
and we all fall back
together into that wet fire, you
know what I mean.

I know a captatin who has seen them
playing with seaweed, swimming
through the green islands, tossing
the slippery branches into the air.

I know a whale that will come to the boat whenever
she can, and nudge it gently along the bow
with her long flipper.

I know several lives worth living.

Listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you
like the dreams of your body,

its spirit
longing to fly while the dead-weight bones
toss their dark mane and hurry
back into the fields of glittering fire

where everything,
even the great whale,
throbs with song.


Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit—
and here are the whelks—
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken—
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless—
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss—
than wholeness—
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled—
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shaking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.


In the green
and purple weed
called Zostera, loosely
swinging in the shallows,

I waded, I reached
my hands
in that most human
of gestures—to find,

to see,
to hold whatever it is
that’s there—
and what came up

wasn’t much
but it glittered
and struggled,
it had eyes, and a body

like a wand,
it had pouting lips.
No longer,
all of it,

than any of my fingers,
it wanted
away from my strangeness,
it wanted

to go back
into that waving forest
so quick and wet.
I forget

when this happened,
how many years ago
I opened my hands—
like a promise

I would keep my whole life,
and have—
and let it go.
I tell you this

in case you have yet to wade
into the green
and purple shallows
where the dimunitive

wants to go living.
I tell you this
against everything you are—

your human heart,
your hands passing over the world,
gathering and closing,
so dry and slow.

I Ask Percy How I Should Live My Life (Ten)

Love, love, love says Percy.
And hurry as fast as you can
along the shining beach, or the rubble, or the dust.

Then, go to sleep.
Give up your body heat, your beating heart.
Then, trust.


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