Hobe Sound, Florida: American poet Mary Oliver, who won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, has died at the age of 83. Her literary executor, Bill Reichblum, said she died from lymphoma cancer at her home in Hobe Sound, Florida.
Oliver, one of America’s most popular poets, wrote more than 15 collections of poetry and essays, which zinged with affection for nature and the outdoors.
Her substantial fanbase includes Oscar-winner Gwyneth Paltrow, and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Thank you, Mary Oliver, for giving so many of us words to live by. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) January 17, 2019
While her critics called her unduly earnest, Oliver herself saw her directness, conversational style and fondness for “old-fashioned” subjects as an asset.
“One thing I do know is that poetry, to be understood, must be clear. It mustn’t be fancy,” she told US radio station NPR in a rare 2012 interview. She added: “The two things I loved from a very early age were the natural world and dead poets, [who] were my pals when I was a kid.”
Oliver described her family as “dysfunctional”, and though she studied at Ohio State University and Vassar College, she never graduated. She would later dismiss much of her education in an essay as “such a pre-established collection of certainties”.
Oliver’s great love was the photographer Molly Malone Cook, to whom she dedicated much of her work. In Our World, she wrote of her partner: “I took one look and fell, hook and tumble”. The pair met in the late 1950s, and remained together until Cook’s death in 2005.
In 1998, Oliver was granted the Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement.
She wrote about human mortality with the tone of someone counting her blessings.
“When it’s over,” she wrote in When Death Comes, “I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”
Her view of death – and what a worthwhile life should feel like – was summed up in her much-loved 1992 poem, The Summer Day, where she ponders the value of feeling “idle and blessed”.
Her final couplet, often quoted, asks the reader: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”