Mary Oliver passed away at age 84 in Hobe Sound, Florida, January 17, 2019. She was one of the most widely read and appreciated poets in the United States. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1984) and numerous other honors, including four honorary doctorates and the National Book Award (1992), Mary Oliver owed the success of her vast poetic and non-fiction output (almost 30 volumes of poetry, and prose) to her ability to touch the key questions of existence through an immediate and familiar dialogue with the reader.
She was the author of a clear and direct poetry that drew inspiration from the world of nature, which she observed on her long, daily walks in the woods of Provincetown (Massachusetts) where she lived. “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. And calls for a vision – a faith, to use an old style term. Yes, that’s it. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” This is Mary Oliver’s essential definition of poetry, which she gives at the end of her manual, A Poetry Handbook. This definition, which takes faith into consideration, is also sustained by it so as to understand the value and meaning of words. In some ways it is as if prayer were called into question to explain to us what poetry really is. In addition, in her verses Oliver refers to the holy words (Percy [Four]) of a prayer, to the religious rites; indeed, some of her poems are prayers.
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