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Celebrating Mary Oliver

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 23rd January 2019

We're remembering Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Reader favourite Mary Oliver, who died aged 83 last week.

Last Thursday we were saddened to hear of the death of American poet Mary Oliver. Her poems have been read, shared and enjoyed in many of our Shared Reading groups across the country, so the news will come as a great loss to readers who have found solace and encouragement in her words.

Reporting on her passing, The Washington Post noted that her poetic style was 'precise' and 'unfussy', a factor that which no doubt contributed to her popularity amongst readers of all ages and from all types of backgrounds. She had a particular preference for examining nature, which she found to be a source of "solace, beauty and wisdom" through a difficult and turbulent childhood. In reading any one of her poems it's likely a familiar image will jump from the page to remind you of a day spent walking in the woods or sitting by the river, watching the world go by and marvelling at nature's varied creatures.

Oliver was influenced in her writing by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a fellow American with an enduring interest in nature, and considered Walt Whitman to be the brother she never had.

Fans of Oliver find themselves in good company - when the news of her passing broke, Hillary Clinton tweeted to offer her thanks to the poet "for giving so many of us words to live by", and thousands of other readers similarly expressed their gratitude by sharing verses that had touched them or played a part in significant moments of their lives.

There are many poems we could choose to highlight, but perhaps the most affecting is Wild Geese, which has been shared in many different Shared Reading groups over the last decade.

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.

Other favourites include:

  • The Journey
  • The Summer Day
  • The Hummingbird

You can read more of Mary Oliver's poetry on the Poetry Foundation website.

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