Mary Oliver’s poetry was scattered through years of my chaplaincy, often read by a person on the street at a memorial for one of their friends. I think it was her intimacy with the earth, use of natural images and sense of being a participatory human being.
When a poet dies it seems they are absorbed, as Whitman liked to say, dissolved into the earth and into our common, earthbound lives.
Ms. Oliver often described her vocation as the observation of life, and it is clear from her texts that she considered the vocation a quasi-religious one. Her poems — those about nature as well as those on other subjects — are suffused with a pulsating, almost mystical spirituality, as in the work of the American Transcendentalists or English poets like William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
I think we’re consistently in need of those who make observation their vocation.