Thank You Mary Oliver

My Library

Dear Reader:

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, is dead. I feel heavy writing those words as if I lost a friend. I am simply another reader…one of millions. But with her books in my hands, I’ve felt the companionship of a friend. I’ve nodded my head or spoken aloud as if in conversation with her. And, so it would be true to say that we had a relationship. That was the power of Mary’s art. That’s what made her so well-loved.

She was the rare poet who sold well. My social media feeds are filled with her brilliantly strung together words and moving tributes from regular people like me and her famous admirers like Hillary Clinton, Madonna and Oprah.

When I heard the news of her death, I retreated to my shed to pull her book Dog Songs from my shelf. The book popped open to page 31:



What shall I do?

When I pick up the broom

he leaves the room.

When I fuss with kindling he

runs for the yard.

Then he’s back, and we

hug for a long time.

In his low-to-the ground chest

I can hear his heart slowing down.

Then I rub his shoulders and

kiss his feet

and fondle his long hound ears.

Benny, I say,

don’t worry. I also know the way

the old life haunts the new.

I read that poem as a dog lover, a hound lover, to be precise. But, I also read it as a person whose old life can be haunting. In one of the rare interviews Mary gave, she spoke of her unhappy childhood that included sexual abuse and parental neglect.

“I had a very dysfunctional family, and a very hard childhood,” Mary told Maria Shriver. “So I made a world out of words. And it was my salvation.”

Thank you Mary for sharing your world with me. The joy, solace and inspiration your words have given me are alive. Still. On my bookcase.


7 thoughts on “Thank You Mary Oliver

  1. I am sorry to say I wasn’t familiar with her work at all, but my Instagram was full of tributes and excepts of her poetry and I realised what I have been missing out on. The next time I am in Waterstones I will be searching for a book of her poetry, as I have loved the ones I have read so far. The one you have chosen is so sad and beautiful and heart-warming. I can see why she is treasured by so many.

    1. Ali, I think YOU would really appreciate Mary’s work as so much of it was grounded in the natural world, as your beautiful writing is.

  2. This is a lovely post about Maary Oliver. I too enjoy her poetry very much. I wasn’t familiar with this dog poem, but now I can add it to the list of her poems that I enjoy. She will certainly be missed.

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