person holding a book outside

3 Mary Oliver Poems to Inspire You to Get Outside

If you’re a poetry enthusiast, you’re likely familiar with iconic nature poet Mary Oliver. Her descriptive imagery, creative parallels between nature and the human experience, and distinctive voice make her a timeless, beloved writer. 


Throughout her career, she poignantly captured human connection to nature in her beautifully written, insightful poems. So, if you’re feeling removed from the natural world, look no further for reasons to explore the outdoors: here are three Mary Oliver poems to inspire you to get outside.


“The Summer Day”


In “The Summer Day,” Oliver perfectly captures the wonder of nature. The subject of the poem spends her whole day simply observing a grasshopper and wandering through a field. Although some might feel she wasted her time, which Oliver alludes to when she asks, “Tell me, what else should I have done?”, the subject knows life is fleeting and should be spent appreciating nature. 


Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean—

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?


“Sleeping in the Forest”


In “Sleeping in the Forest,” the subject is essentially camping in the woods after a period of time away from nature. Throughout the night, the speaker’s connection to the forest is restored, evident when she compares her grounded sleep to a river stone (i.e. “I slept like a rock”) and her thoughts to moths. By the end of the poem, she’s healed and emerges from the trees a better person.


I thought the earth

remembered me, she

took me back so tenderly, arranging

her dark skirts, her pockets

full of lichens and seeds. I slept

as never before, a stone

on the riverbed, nothing

between me and the white fire of the stars

but my thoughts, and they floated

light as moths among the branches

of the perfect trees. All night

I heard the small kingdoms breathing

around me, the insects, and the birds

who do their work in the darkness. All night

I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling

with a luminous doom. By morning

I had vanished at least a dozen times

into something better.


“Morning Poem”


In “Morning Poem,” Oliver depicts beautiful, wooded ponds, immediately transporting you to this magical scene. She then shares how nature will bring you joy and ignite your creativity when she states, “If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere.” If you’re searching for a way to heal, Oliver declares that your inner voice instinctually knows the path is nature when she writes, “somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted.”


Every morning

the world

is created.

Under the orange

sticks of the sun

the heaped

ashes of the night

turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches —

and the ponds appear

like black cloth

on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.

If it is your nature

to be happy

you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination

alighting everywhere.

And if your spirit

carries within it

the thorn

that is heavier than lead —

if it’s all you can do

to keep on trudging —

there is still

somewhere deep within you

a beast shouting that the earth

is exactly what it wanted —

each pond with its blazing lilies

is a prayer heard and answered


every morning,

whether or not

you have ever dared to be happy,

whether or not

you have ever dared to pray.


If these Mary Oliver poems have motivated you to deepen your connection to the earth, take this inspiration a step further by writing your own nature poetry. For help, check out our tips for writing outdoors-inspired poetry!