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5 Mary Oliver Poems for Grieving Hearts

When you are in the middle of a dark grief of the soul, sometimes the most comforting thing you can feel is someone’s understanding. Someone who helps you feel seen and reminds you that you’re not alone in this season of loss. 

 

Mary Oliver is a poet who understood grief all too well. Her words serve as a comfort to other hurting souls who are in the thick of their pain. If you are in a season of sadness, please know that I am aching alongside you. I hope her words can be a flicker of hope for your heart as well. Here are a few Mary Oliver poems to soothe our souls in any season of suffering. 

 

Heavy

 

That time

I thought I could not

go any closer to grief

without dying

 

I went closer,

and I did not die.

Surely God

had his hand in this,

 

as well as friends.

Still, I was bent,

and my laughter,

as the poet said,

 

was nowhere to be found.

Then said my friend Daniel

(brave even among lions),

“It is not the weight you carry

 

but how you carry it—

books, bricks, grief—

it’s all in the way

you embrace it, balance it, carry it

 

when you cannot, and would not,

put it down.”

So I went practicing.

Have you noticed?

 

Have you heard

the laughter

that comes, now and again,

out of my startled mouth?

 

How I linger

to admire, admire, admire

the things of this world

that are kind, and maybe

 

also troubled—

roses in the wind,

The sea geese on the steep waves,

a love

to which there is no reply?

 

This poem was a beautiful tribute to the difficult process of grieving and the immense strength it takes to find joy in the most improbable times. It’s a poem of resilience and honest reflection that speaks so profoundly to the pain that surrounds loss. 

 

The Uses of Sorrow

 

Someone I loved once

gave me a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand that

this, too, was a gift.

 

Grieving varies from person to person: it is not linear, and the timing for healing varies from situation to situation. But as we travel through the pain, with time, we will start to be able to see the beauty that can come from even our most heartbreaking seasons—the perseverance that can grow despite deep suffering. 

 

Praying 

 

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

 

This poem spoke so profoundly to my heart. Grief can make you feel so alone and hopeless—but for many, prayer can connect you back to hope. Prayer allows you to seek comfort and solace outside of yourself. It doesn’t have to be perfect to matter, it just needs to be sincere and honest. That vulnerability opens up a door for healing and processing. 

 

Starlings in Winter (excerpt)

 

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,  

even in the leafless winter,

even in the ashy city.

I am thinking now

of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots

trying to leave the ground,

I feel my heart

pumping hard. 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.

 

Oliver’s poetry is the perfect balance of pain and hope. Her words are full of wisdom and the insight that she herself gleaned from her time in the valley of grief. But they are also an encouragement for every hurting heart to find things that are still worth fighting for. 

 

In Blackwater Woods (excerpt)

 

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.

 

This poem is immensely profound as it reflects on the human condition and the importance of loving others—and life itself—to the very depths of our soul. Life is fleeting, and every moment matters. Oliver’s words acknowledge that painful reality while also reminding readers that love, despite the pain, is worth it.