Grace Notes

a blog about life’s everyday magic

November 1, 2016

As Though I Had Wings: 20 Mary Oliver Quotes to Live By

As Though I Had Wings: 20 Mary Oliver Quotes to Live By

Words: Natalie Skeith
Photo credit: Rafal Szkudlarek

 

 

I was that odd, artsy girl in high school who sat cross-legged in the poetry section of Barnes and Noble. I’d grab a few of the best looking covers and pour over the words. Something in my chest would flicker like a lighter before the flame.

 

 

I can remember the first time I bought a Mary Oliver book at a little bookstore in San Francisco. I was 18 and read it cover to cover on my bed that night. It rattled my insides and verbalized truths I needed to hear. Since then I have reread Oliver’s books dozens of times, I have gifted them to countless friends, and quoted her on Instagram at a shockingly high volume. Most people don’t read poetry these days, but Mary Oliver seems to attract an audience that touches every diversity. Her deep sense of wonder, natural imagery, and accessible language invite readers from all walks of life to enter in.

If you need a little magic in your day, here are 20 Mary Oliver quotes to live by:

1. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”

2. “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.”

3. “I tell you this/ to break your heart, /by which I mean only/ that it break open and never close again/ to the rest of the world.”

4. “Listen – are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?”

5. “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”

Gambling addiction is a serious problem that affects many people around the world. It is a condition that can cause emotional, financial and social problems for individuals and their families. However, some people have found inspiration in the words of poet Mary Oliver which can help those with gambling addiction.

One quote from Oliver, “attention without feeling…is only a report,” resonates strongly with those who are struggling with gambling addiction. Many people who suffer from gambling addiction feel disconnected from themselves and their emotions. They may focus solely on the thrill of winning without considering the consequences of losing. By paying attention to their feelings while gambling, they can better understand why they are drawn to it and work towards healing.

Another quote that has helped those dealing with gambling addiction is: “tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

6. “But little by little,/ as you left their voices behind,/ the stars began to burn/ through the sheets of clouds,/ and there was a new voice/ which you slowly/ recognized as your own,/ that kept you company/ as you strode deeper and deeper/ into the world,/ determined to do/ the only thing you could do –/ determined to save/ the only life you could save.”

7. “Keep some room in your heart for the Unimaginable”

8. “I simply do not distinguish between work and play.”

9. “You can have the other words-chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.”

10. “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”

11. “Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell. This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.”

12. “And to tell the truth I don’t want to let go of the wrists of idleness, I don’t want to sell my life for money, I don’t even want to come in out of the rain.”

13. “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

14. “Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world.”

15. “it is a serious thing /just to be alive / on this fresh morning / in this broken world.”

16. “But I also say this: that light is an invitation to happiness, and that happiness, when it’s done right, is a kind of holiness, palpable and redemptive. ”

17. “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it…It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”

18. “I believe in kindness. Also in mischief. Also in singing, especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.”

19. “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is 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.”

20. “Someone I loved once gave me/ a box full of darkness./ It took me years to understand/ that this too, was a gift.”
Which Mary Oliver quote is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

Natalie Skeith is a storyteller and poet in Southern California. She has a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, believes in prayer, and has a gypsy heart. She tries to see the beauty in all things and believes champagne is for all occasions. Check out her blog at NatalieSkeith.com or on Instagram @NatalieSkeith.

 

Which Mary Oliver quote is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!

(Visited 26,319 times, 4 visits today)

Comments ( 46 )

  1. Rev. Karen Appleby

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    My favorite Mary Oliver quote is, ” “I simply do not distinguish between work and play.” To me it is an affirmation of that which my heart already knows. It is the encouragement to create and teach and guide people on the spiritual journeys of their lives every day and always. It is a beautiful way to live.

  2. Elizabeth Waggoner

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    #20 – Knowing that the hard times, the disappointments, the fear all have a purpose and can be used for our greater good.

    • Nimadea

      January 19, 2024 at 12:42 pm

      Thanks for posting. It would be so helpful to have the sources listed for each of her quotations.

  3. Diana Foster

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Really love this.

  4. Tisa Hosford

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Wow….the wise words making choosing so difficult…but on this morning of my 62nd year of life #5 resonates–
    5. “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
    I want to be light and frolicsome.
    I want to be improbable, beautiful and afraid of nothing,
    as though I had wings.”

  5. Bubbly

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    “…Joy is not made to be a crumb”.
    I find Joy in so many things. Things I’ve done, seen, heard or feel and there’s more to come. It’s infinite if you just appreciate.

  6. Cindy Rinne

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    The last one helps the most right now. I have lov d Mary Oliver’s writing a long time.

  7. Nancy E. Gibson

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry lately and this was such a lovely and timely surprise in my inbox. Thank you Natalie Skeith for compiling quotes from one my favorite poets. My favorite Mary Oliver poem is the first one, “Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

  8. Carolyn Dietrich

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    13. “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”

  9. Laurel Gaylord

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I’m a huge Mary Oliver fan, always have been. My favorite quote listed here is
    10. “Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” It was a hard choice!

  10. Fran Souza

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    The last quote, number twenty. A black box could be a punch to the solar plexus but it could also be a door you haven’t opened yet.
    Thank you for these precious words.

  11. Judy H.

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    “To pay attention, this is our endless and
    proper work.”

    I love this quote. It is the essence of life.

    • Joan

      September 25, 2023 at 1:00 am

      Beauty in every thought and feeling expressed in her words of the heart.

  12. Debbie Schaefer

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    #11…..the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness – #11 is like smelling salts, waking me up to wonder.

  13. Melissa

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    6. “But little by little,/ as you left their voices behind,/ the stars began to burn/ through the sheets of clouds,/ and there was a new voice/ which you slowly/ recognized as your own,/ that kept you company/ as you strode deeper and deeper/ into the world,/ determined to do/ the only thing you could do –/ determined to save/ the only life you could save.”

  14. Denise Revoir Butler

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”
    Life is so precious, most people are so busy they miss it.

  15. Donna Lee

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    From “Blue Iris”: “Look, I want to love this world as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get to be alive and know it.” I also love the poem, “Freshen the Flowers, She Said”. And much more.

  16. Sandra

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    At this very moment I appreciate number two –
    You only have to let the soft animal of your body/love what it loves.
    I am only just delving into poetry having been invited into a poetry group and my heart is on fire. I am researching poets and found this thoughtful compilation of Mary Oliver’s gifts. Thank you!

  17. judy h.

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    “You can have the other words-…. I’ll take grace” I’ve never been quite sure what “having grace” means. I love the word, it sounds beautiful and looks beautiful when written.
    My grandma passed 2 years ago. She was exactly 100-1/2 years old. I think she would have had it no other way. Her life, beginning to end was a difficult one. She had an abusive childhood, unmarried and 16 years old, she had a son she adored. When he was 6 weeks old, she returned home from work to find her home empty and abandoned. The baby’s father and grandmother had packed up, taken her son and headed for parts unknown. She married a few years later and when she was 46 years old, my grandpa suffered a massive stroke. She lovingly cared for him while she worked 3 jobs to support her husband, daughter and son. When she was 55 years old, my grandpa died. She continued to work 10 hour shifts as a cook so she could pay off medical bills, keep her house and buy a car. A very happy thing happened too; the son who had been stolen from her, found her and surprised her with a visit. Turns out, he had been searching for her for years! They remained close for the rest of her life. She retired when she was 70 years old, and became blind when she was 90 years old. In all of my treasured years with her, I never heard her speak an unkind word or utter the smallest complaint. She always spoke to me about gratitude and how being grateful was “good for my soul and would keep my heart light”. Before going to bed, she took a long bath and emerged from the bathroom smelling of soap and lotion (oh, I loved that smell) and wearing pretty floral pajamas. Each morning, she read from her Bible, dressed for the day (always in an everyday dress) put on her pink rouge, lipstick and powder and selected her earrings for the day. Even as a blind woman, she continued this ritual and never had so much as a hair out of place. When she died, I overheard two of her friends speaking about her; one of them said, “Violet was always the picture of grace.” If she was the image of grace, I’ll take grace any day.

    • Gypsyogini (Linda)

      June 21, 2023 at 6:40 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story; your Grandmother. All things are special: once we can really know that within; then we can join the crowd or walk away with GRACE. BLESSINGS Mary for all you continue to do.

    • Diarmuid Brereton

      September 28, 2023 at 10:32 am

      Wow!
      Just imagine if you hadn’t shared the life of this Saint, the world would be a much lesser place.

  18. Linda

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    This is my favorite Mary Oliver quote, but you have to wait a long time for it to come true – “But little by little,/ as you left their voices behind,/ the stars began to burn/ through the sheets of clouds,/ and there was a new voice/ which you slowly/ recognized as your own,/ that kept you company/ as you strode deeper and deeper/ into the world,/ determined to do/ the only thing you could do –/ determined to save/ the only life you could save.”

  19. Pat Gay

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    #9 I’ll take grace, too.
    Without His grace I would be lost, but with it I am assured.

    • Joyce Young

      November 19, 2023 at 10:14 pm

      This is another favorite quote to empower me not to be afraid as I grow older.

  20. Elizabeth Graham

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    The one that spoke to me the most is: “Listen–are you breathing just a little, and calling it life?” To me that says, “Take a deep breath and start really living.”

  21. Nina Naomi

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I love the quote about our wild and precious life. It is a gift and a challenge.

    • Joyce Young

      November 19, 2023 at 10:12 pm

      This is my favorite quote

  22. Barbara J. Mayer

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I love her words “I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.” My mother’s name was Grace and my father wrote a poem for her titled “Amazing Grace.” And I have a dog named Gracie, after my mother. But I’ve never understood exactly what Grace is either. Yet I think it takes grace to live life the way Mary Oliver did.

  23. Sean

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    To pay attention, this is our work.

    and poring over poetry is also noble.

  24. Enju

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    20. “Someone I loved once gave me/ a box full of darkness./ It took me years to understand/ that this too, was a gift.” ????

  25. Elizabeth Enstrom

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Joy is not a crumb. (I believe that JOY is a gift from our Maker …we should never lose it .)

  26. Audrianne Hill

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    My favorite Mary Oliver quote isn’t in your list: “To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

  27. Debbie

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I love this quote so much. For me it means the horrible, nasty things that were done to me by someone who professed to love me. The gift was how much I learned from it, how much I became who I am today because of the lessons it taught me. To be strong and know what you want, and to not accept anything less. I would rather be alone than to be with something less than I deserve. That was the gift.

  28. jan fretz

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    My 11 year old granddaughter is fascinated by quotes and poetry. Which book or which ones would be good for her. She is very intelligent so you don’t need to dumb them down.

  29. Greg

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    “Keep some room in your heart for the Unimaginable” This has long been favourite but I only came across Mary Oliver recently and many of these quotes are yet unknown. I enjoy her simplicity of her imagery and the resilence of her thoughts.

  30. Sherry Q Crenshaw

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”

    I had not read any of Mary Oliver’s poetry until after her death. This quote caught my heart from the beginning.

  31. Ralph Ranieri

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you for your quotes about Mary Oliver. I have seen her name many times but never knew what she wrote or what she believed. I feel like I have some understanding of her now. I may look into her work more deeply. My favorite quote: ” I believe in kindness… “

  32. David Petticord

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    We stand arms spread wide, as we welcome spirit flowing through us, joining with others who also stand
    arms widespread. We feel the great rush of spirit’s power and joy and glory in this spiritual journey of Mankind.

  33. S.Santhis

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    All that Mary ever wrote is precious for me…and I turn to her wit, wisdom, sense of beauty, wonder and wilderness in my most joyful and sad moments. One of my favourite quotes by her is “I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I want to be light and frolicsome. I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing, as though I had wings.”

  34. Linda Johnson

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    I am embarrassed to say I never heard of Mary Oliver until reading these words in Rabbi Gellman’s newspaper column. My husband is suffering from multiple health problems, and these words of hers spoke to me and gave me a sense of peace. I will definitely search her works out. Thank you.

  35. Bonnie

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    To Live In this World
    You Must Be Able
    To Do Three Things:

    To Love What Is Mortal
    To Hold Against Your Bones Knowing Your Own Life Depends On It
    And When The Time Comes To Let It Go, Let It Go.

  36. Bonnie

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    To Live In this World
    You Must Be Able
    To Do Three Things:

    To Love What Is Mortal
    To Hold Against Your Bones Knowing Your Own Life Depends On It
    And When The Time Comes To Let It Go, Let It Go. (First time I have said this)

  37. Michele Landy

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    Mary Oliver has inspired me.
    I too feel the stars dancing when they drop.
    I also beam in sunlight.
    On those special days I can feel how soft the air can be.
    Oh…
    Those are the best days!
    Along with the warm sun shining on my face ,as I’m back floating in a bay,or jumping up to meet,and be at one with the ocean in the eve of summer time or feeling the splash as I sit or lay at the waters edge and the pull as it leaves me when the waves recede.
    Mary Oliver has been my inspiration …I was hooked and cut open to devolge … everything …the first time I read ..what will you do with your one wild and wonderful life.

  38. Michele Landy

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    My inspiration was the minute I read the quote Mary Oliver wrote about what would you be do with your one wild and precious life .
    I haven’t stopped writing since.
    She opened up something ..in me ..I’m grateful for the experience.

  39. Sabina

    April 19, 2023 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you so much for publishing these wonderful quotes by our beloved Mary Oliver. I adore them all, but my favourite one is no.18 about Kindness (and singing!). Kindness is Key❤️
    Love
    Sabina
    Mase, Switzerland

  40. Teresa

    June 12, 2023 at 3:50 pm

    My favorite is from the poem, When I Am Among the Trees.

    …And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say, “and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”

Leave a Reply