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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,624 reviews
Profile Image for Julie G.
897 reviews2,931 followers
September 29, 2018
I have a weird relationship with Mary Oliver. I own, and have read, several of her books. Most of them are poetry, but a couple of them are essay collections (as Upstream is). I generally like most of her books, and it excites me to see someone making some kind of a living off selling poetry. Though, where Ms. Oliver lives (a beaver hut?) is yet to be determined by me.

Sometimes, when I'm reading her work, I'm smiling or nodding and really feeling groovy. For instance, in this collection, she ponders poetry:

I learned from Whitman that the poem is a temple-or a green field-a place to enter, and in which to feel. Only in a secondary way is it an intellectual thing-an artifact, a moment of seemly and robust wordiness-wonderful as that part of it is. I learned that the poem was made not just to exist, but to speak, to be company.

And creativity:

The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.

And when I'm reading lines like these, I feel like Ms. Oliver is a kindred spirit, and I feel proud of her writing and long career. . .

But then. . . she'll start talking about those "open mouthed" kisses that she plants on trees and sticks and animals and whatnot, and it puts into my mind that bizarre moment from Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, Eat, Pray, Love when, at a yoga camp or wherever the hell she was, she suddenly mounts a tree and initiates foreplay.

Folks, I love nature, but I love it the way E.B. White loved it, the way that Larry McMurtry and his characters love nature. As in. . . Damn, would you just look at that view?!

So, after a few of these. . . "open mouthed" expressions of nature devotion, I came to these lines (dear God, please let someone be reading this review right now, because I need some hand holding here):

Once I put my face against the body of our cat as she lay with her kittens, and she did not seem to mind. So I pursed my lips against that full moon, and I tasted the rich river of her body.

Say what now?? Wha?? I literally read these two sentences about ten times in a row, then brought the book to my husband and read them aloud and asked, "Is she saying what I think she's saying?"

My husband's face recoiled in a grimace and he said, "What in hell are you reading??"


I'm sorry, Ms. Oliver, there's some good stuff here, and I love Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson, too, but I gotta draw the line somewhere.

And, please. . . stay away from my cats.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
September 30, 2016
4.5 I have read her poetry for years, she in one of my favorites but until this book I never knew she was an essayist. The beautiful writing and thoughts that are expressed in her poetry are also expressed in her writing. Thoughts on creativity, need for solitude, the wonder of the natural world, and those writers that she has loved since her youth.

Divided into three sections, the last two tying back to the first. Emerson, Poe, Whitman, those writers she finds indispensable to her own thoughts, peace of mind, fuel for her soul. I read these at night, before bed a few at a time and cherished the time I spent with them. Filled with special insights and wonder this was a special and beautiful read.

ARC from Netgalley.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books970 followers
November 26, 2020
Have not read Mary Oliver prior to this but I understand she’s a celebrated poet. Her prose has the distinct voice of a poet which leads to some occasionally beautiful sentences and poignant observations. Generally, however, this eclectic mix of previously published snippets has little to say.

The strongest moments include her musing obsession with the great poets and the artist’s life. Her brief analysis of Poe and Whitman are noteworthy. Literary criticism segues into nature writing, and sometimes both thanks to her love for the great Henry David Thoreau. These essays span a long career from the ‘90s to early ‘10s but the timeless subjects keep it feeling fresh.

Poetry gets by with a strong image and allows the reader to supply their own significance. In essays, however, I find this narrative style falters, such as when Oliver beautifully describes a turtle in the pond or tracks in the sand, and then stops. Without continued analysis of these natural wonders to her personally, it leaves a “so what?” taste in my mouth, or worse, a “I guess you just had to be there.”

On occasion her subject of interest completely escapes me, leaving only a glaze of pretty words on the page.

Of the 100 pages or so of content, the standout moment is when Oliver describes finding a maimed bird and taking it home for attempted rehabilitation. Though the bird’s health continues to decline, it’s happiness with the attention of his new human friends is depicted strong enough that it leaves a lingering image about the significance of health, life and joy.

Overall, not a waste of time and even if it were it isn’t much time to waste. This is a slim selection of essays that breezes by in only a few short sittings. Not worth the price of entry, but worth a check-out at the library.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,115 followers
October 11, 2016
Mary Oliver can do no wrong in her poetry. She is one of my favorite voices, reflecting on nature, reflecting on relationships. She is happy to live a life that isn't well-traveled, but rather one that notices, that breathes.

This book of essays reflects that philosophy. Some are on home, some are on other writers, some are on scrambled turtle eggs. I was cooing over the beautiful writing on the plane, much to my seatmates' chagrin. This would be a good addition to an essay collection OR for fans of poetry.
Profile Image for Quirine.
71 reviews1,573 followers
May 6, 2023
Read this in one day and will probably come back to it many more times - it’s just one of those books
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
633 reviews349 followers
November 15, 2016
If you were to take a walk upstream what would you notice?
Exploring the twin pleasures of writing literature with essays on Whitman, Wordsworth, Poe, and Emerson and then the observations of the natural world—seeing it, hearing it, and responding to it, are the inspiration in this collection by poet Mary Oliver.

She so beautifully describes the watery world of fish swimming in blue pastures, sunflowers that are more wonderful than any words about them, and wild roses as an immutable force whose purpose is to strike our heart and saturate it with simple joy.
She observes a spider raising her young, gives sanctuary to an injured gull, then ponders the terrible mystery of the endlessly hungry owl.
There are reflections on the way life used to be in small towns when bears were more welcome, dogs could roam free, and dwellings were constructed like patchwork quilts.

Her certainty is that the natural world is necessary in order for her to write and anyone with an affinity for the same would love this new offering. I savored it each morning with my coffee in one hand, my e-reader in the other, and the sunrise in my vision. A real treat but so difficult not to include direct quotes with my thoughts on it (the only downside to ARCs).
Thanks much to NetGalley & Penguin Press.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,301 reviews450 followers
November 10, 2016
I've always loved her poetry, but, until now, never read any prose by Mary Oliver. Her writing is wonderful and peaceful and cleansing. Magic.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,065 reviews1,475 followers
October 7, 2016
Actual rating 4.5 stars.

I received this book in exchange from an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Mary Oliver, and the publisher, Penguin Press, for this opportunity.

This is a selection of essays, written in a beautiful and abstract style, concerning a variety of topics; from the history of Emmerson, the laying of turtle eggs in the sand, Poe’s concern over the uncertainty of the universe and the adventures of a common house spider.

I enjoyed some more than others, purely because I had more interest in the topics discussed, rather than some being of weaker constitution than others. All had a transcendent and divine tone to them that felt like meditation in the written form. The essays concerning natural elements were of particular evocative delight.

I also loved exploring the essays concerning Gothic literature. I did in-depth studies on the subject for my under-grad university degree, before making this the primary focus of my post-grad Masters degree, and her thoughts would have been of unparalleled help if I had discovered them during this time. Now they just hold a great interest for me and her littering of classical Gothic texts in this made me so excited to continue my exploration of the genre.

Despite the academic focus of these short essays, they were written with such a graceful and dignified beauty that they read like extended poems, which is, indeed, their point. They have definitely heightened my appreciation and understanding of both the wonders of the natural world and great past literary figures.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books969 followers
July 13, 2022
It's been a long time since I read a book in one sitting, but conditions were just right yesterday: a 175-page book with good-sized font, a sympathetic author, a dock on a Maine lake with high wind and whitecaps (always the best reading venue).

I was expecting more about poetry but am happy to report that there's more about nature. I'm also happy to report that it's not JUST nature MO goes on and on about. Some essay collections are one-note Sally's, but this nicely mixed Annie Dillard-style nature pieces with essays on writers Oliver loves such as Ralph, Waldo, and Emerson (a literary firm from Concord, MA), Edgar, Allan, and Poe (ditto from a Baltimore gutter, alas), and Walt NMN Whitman. Throw in Wordsworth from Jolly Olde and you have four heavyweights for MO to analyze at her leisure and yours.

In the Poe essay, there's a brief riff on love and death, two human preoccupations (well, full-time occupation once you're dead and your loving capabilities have left you):

"In the mystery and the energy of loving, we all view time's shadow upon the beloved as wretchedly as any of Poe's narrators. We do not think of it every day, but we never forget it: the beloved shall grow old, or ill, and be taken away finally. No matter how ferociously we fight, how tenderly we love, how bitterly we argue, how pervasively we berate the universe, how cunningly we hide, this is what shall happen. In the wide circles of timelessness, everything material and temporal will fail, including the manifestation of the beloved. In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love, and the ability to ask questions. Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us. This is Poe's real story. As it is ours. And this is why we honor him, why we are fascinated far past the simple narratives. He writes about our own inescapable destiny."

Interesting that I liked that bit, as I don't much care for Poe's over-the-top writing (his poetry especially leaves me muttering, "Nevermore"). Still, it's an interesting theory with a few nice turns of phrases. Enough to keep you going while the wind turns your pages on the dock of a Maine lake.

And hats off. Oliver is one of those rare writers who can do two genres well. Granted, not all of her poetry holds up, but enough of it does to make her matter. And these essays matter, too. The final piece on Provincetown's lost way of life will strike a chord. We all know a place we've been robbed of by time and change, the Bonnie & Clyde of our rapidly accelerating (and declining) times.
Profile Image for Miranda.
310 reviews17 followers
January 3, 2022
Mary Oliver WHY did you drink milk from your cat’s nipple!!!!!!!
Profile Image for Dea.
113 reviews338 followers
May 20, 2023
A bit of a disjointed and mixed bag here in terms of both theme (nature essays, then some on other writers, then back to nature) and quality - I really only found two pieces to be worthwhile. I’ve tried several of Mary Oliver’s poetry books and did not care for them at all, but was hoping for a different outcome with this essay collection.
Profile Image for Eric.
164 reviews28 followers
May 9, 2022
oh. my. god.

someone please tell me why this is one of the most beautiful books i’ve read this year.

i’ve never read any of oliver’s work, but now i’m genuinely considering it. i know it’s common knowledge that any poets prose will be just as pretty as their poetry — but i didn’t think y’all were serious. i thought ocean vuong was the only one.

but i was dearly mistaken. the way oliver writes about nature in such a descriptive and beautiful way makes me love it so much more. the way she writes about art and literature and what that means to her is so heartfelt and subjective and beautiful. how she wrote about whitman and poe and blake and other acclaimed poets and what they meant to hear felt so personal and amazingly written.

i seriously can’t stress enough how beautiful this collection of essays is. it’s short but packs a big punch and i’m mad that i can’t write even half of how mary oliver can write.

read this today, because you will seriously not regret it.

all in all: how is someone given the gift of writing so beautifully without giving us any of that talent? read this right now please (command)


“And we might, in our lives, have many thresholds,
many houses to walk out from and view the stars, or to turn and go back to for warmth and company. But the real one- the actual house not of beams and nails but of existence itself- is all of earth, with no door, no address separate from oceans or stars, or trom pleasure .. wretchedness either, or hope, or weakness, or greed.

How wonderful that the universe Is beautitul in so
many places and in so many ways. But also the universe is brisk and businesslike, and no doubt does not give its delicate landscapes or its thunderous displays of power, and perhaps perception, too, for our sakes or our improvement.

Nevertheless, its intonations are our best tonics, if we would take them. For the universe is full of radiant suggestion. For whatever reason, the heart cannot separate the world's appearance and actions from morality and valor, and the power of every idea is intensified, if not actually created, by its expression in substance. Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs forever and forever returns, we experience eternity.”
Profile Image for Jamie.
225 reviews118 followers
February 23, 2017
Incredibly beautiful and just awe-inspiring how she was able to express her passion for literature and nature within such small essays.
Certain essays were written so vividly, that I felt right there with her, seeing what she had seen when she was describing the woods. Absolutely loved this book.
4.5 Stars
Profile Image for Eliza.
596 reviews1,376 followers
November 26, 2020
Some essays were better than others. I especially enjoyed her piece about winter and its darkness. The imagery was absolutely beautiful!
Profile Image for Karen.
1,426 reviews201 followers
June 12, 2023
This was a donation to my Little Free Library Shed. I am now bringing my review to Goodreads.

This is the author's personal journey through essays.

There are keen insights into the natural world, animals and literary masters that inspired her poetry.

We experience her thoughts on love, death, time, and finding a place of one's own.

One of her most compelling essays is the one in which she took care of an injured gull in her home, including the surprising moments of exhilaration and fun together.

As he becomes weaker, she admits to being in a difficult place. "How do I say it? We grew fond. We grew into that perilous place: we grew fond."

It is this kind of reverence for life that makes this author an inspiration to any reader.
Profile Image for Ariel .
262 reviews13 followers
October 11, 2016
In her essay collection, Upstream, Mary Oliver sets us on a trail through forest and by shore as she expertly layers in experience and thought from essay to essay. A collection of three parts, the latter two being expansions on the first, Upstream is Oliver's beautifully writ reflection on where she comes from, her kinship with the natural world and its wild ones, and the authors that have warmed her blood and quickened her own ink.

Oliver's essays on Whitman, Emerson, and Poe are insightful pieces that were immensely enjoyable to read. They offer perspective and interpretation on both each author's work and the motivation behind it. I would eagerly recommend Oliver's essays as strong companion pieces to experiencing and/or revisiting each author in turn. Oliver illumines wonderful points about these specific authors as well as literature as a whole. As with the assertion, from her "Emerson: An Introduction," that
"The best use of literature bends not toward the narrow and the absolute but to the extravagant and the possible. Answers are no part of it; rather, it is the opinions, the rhapsodic persuasions, the engrafted logics, the clues that are to the mind of the reader the possible keys to his own self-quarrels, his own predicament. This is the crux of Emerson, who does not advance straight ahead but wanders to all sides of an issue; who delivers suggestions with a kindly gesture— who opens doors and tells us to look at things for ourselves. The one thing he is adamant about is that we should look— we must look— for that is the liquor of life, that brooding upon issues, that attention to thought even as we weed the garden or milk the cow."

The aspect of Oliver's Upstream that most connected me with her writing and most moved me to start reading her poetry is her ability to vividly capture the impress and beauty of the wild. Her prose is warm honey dripping from fresh honey comb and freshly spilled blood on snow. It holds a visceral heat and weight to it that is stirring and captivating. It made me think of Waldeinsamkeit, the 'untranslatable' German word for "the feeling of being alone in the woods" with wald meaning wood/forest and einsamkeit meaning loneliness or solitude. More yearn for than think of really. Thanks to an old yet never sated etymology addiction and a penchant for eagerly grabbing the bait whenever an article like "50 Untranslatable Words From Other Languages" pops up in my radar, waldeinsamkeit is what comes to mind when I think of having an intense connection with nature. Where one can be swallowed up by the underside of a trees' leaves or the glow surrounding the moon on a windy night; a perfect contentment in solitude while everything breathes around you. I can't say 'breathes' is really the word, that it really expresses a clear expression. That otherness felt in nature, as in literature and the poignance of both, is beyond my abilities of description but Oliver does it credit in her essay titled "Staying Alive".
"In the first of these—the natural world—I felt at ease; nature was full of beauty and interest and mystery, also good and bad luck, but never misuse. The second world—the world of literature—offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy... and I ran for it. I realized in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything—other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world's otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness—the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books—can re-dignify the worst-stung heart."

Upstream is a collection I can definitely see myself revisiting and I look forward to reading more from Mary Oliver. I think it holds a wealth of inspiration for introspection and there are pieces of it that are still tumbling around my head and working themselves into all sorts of channels. Pieces that need to continually traipse about my mind in lewdly luminescent & emboldened letters as a consistent reminder such as,
"You must not ever stop being whimsical.
And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life."

I'd like to thank NetGalley for giving me the chance to discover, read, and review a new-to-me author with this ARC.
Profile Image for Dana.
201 reviews
November 30, 2016
Mary Oliver's essays, like her poems, are a soothing balm for the soul.
Profile Image for Carolyn Marie  Castagna.
290 reviews6,243 followers
February 19, 2020
"I never met any of my friends, of course, in a usual way—they were strangers, and lived only in their writings. But if they were only shadow-companions, still they were constant, and powerful, and amazing. That is, they said amazing things, and for me it changed the world." - Mary Oliver 🌿
I wish I had the opportunity to sit down and have a long conversation with Mary. This book did feel like she was telling me some of her life stories, but I mean really telling person, face to face. There is so much I want to talk to her about, like our mutual love for the same poets, Walt Whitman in particular. How I, along with her, feel most at peace and at home among trees, animals, and the natural world. I want to ask her an endless amount of questions about writing and reading, about different birds and trees, about life and passion.
I've discovered a kindred spirit in Mary, and felt like she was speaking to me alone while I read. To read about a renowned poet who shares similar thoughts and dreams as my own was a comfort I never knew I was looking for. This book and Mary herself has given me hope, in my dreams, and in the possibilities of the world.
I'd love nothing more than to thank her for doing so much for dreamers like myself. Now, when I look up at the sky, at a seagull, or at a Walt Whitman poem, I'll think of her and thank her!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews395 followers
October 23, 2016
"I quickly found for myself two such blessings -- the natural world, and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanished through a difficult place."

In in this exquisite collection of essays, national treasure Mary Oliver uses her poetic talent and gifts of observation to reflect on topics ranging from the beauty of the natural world, to the connectedness of all beings, to the need for solitude, and the genius of some of America's literary masters. As with the poetry for which Oliver is best known, this is a quiet, reflective, and soulful book best savored rather than rushed.

4.5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Press for a galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Sarah.
351 reviews162 followers
December 21, 2019
I was hoping this would be calming, beautiful meditations on the natural world, to read in small sips before bed. It started off that way, but oh my lord, this book. I ended up suckerpunched, lying in the dark for hours with giant, peeled eyeballs. Too wrecked to say more so I will just leave you with maybe the most beautiful characterization I’ve ever read of being an artist:
It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. … If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.
Profile Image for Ipsa.
188 reviews200 followers
December 16, 2021
I, too, turn into a dramatic sigh-swoon loser who reads Mary Oliver whenever my brain starts to get glitchy. She wraps my head in bandages and keeps it from falling off; burdens it with the sublime as well as the common. She lightens the incessant, violent clash between my mind and the impossible stillness it demands of my motion encased body whenever I read or write.

Profile Image for emmy.
29 reviews316 followers
August 21, 2022
Very romantic and beautiful - an ode to nature, and what our devotion to it can do for us.
Profile Image for emma.
199 reviews147 followers
July 5, 2022
to love mary oliver is to accept that not every poem or essay will reach you and match your wavelength of relatability or depth of understanding, and i am okay with that. with that in mind, i did not love this but i also did not hate it. i liked some essays, but was waiting for others to end.

“in the beginning i was so young and such a stranger to myself i hardly existed. i had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before i knew at all who i was, what i was, what i wanted to be.”
Profile Image for pato.
154 reviews929 followers
March 16, 2023
there's a before and after reading this both in terms of connecting to myself and encouraging me to make attempts to connect to everything outside of myself too. lot of clarity, really affecting, immediately applicable.
i feel so much, but i dont want to try and put it into words because i'd limit it to only being what i can describe. instead, i feel sated just by having this deep resonant warmth within me that i want to nurture without giving a name for a while. & i feel like that's also what the book is about.
June 30, 2019
Mary Oliver was a total hippie and I mean that in the best, least stereotypical way possible!
Nature was her first language and she managed to translate it into words on paper that make me step outside and look up at the trees in awe. Her appreciation of the world and its quiet miracles never fails to stun me.

Upstream is an essay collection divided into five sections. It covers Oliver's devotion to nature, words, and home (Provincetown). It also includes thoughtful essays about authors Emerson, Poe, Whitman, and Wordsworth.

It includes resounding lines like:

"Something is wrong, I know it, if I don't keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful."


"I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too."

Her words are careful, unhurried, and at times meandering; as if she's writing exactly as she would speak to a friend on an afternoon walk.

She's so sure of herself, she tells readers in a rather nonchalant way about nursing from her cat. She seriously just dropped this:
"Once I put my face against the body of our cat as she lay with her kittens, and she did not seem to mind. So I pursed my lips against that full moon, and I tasted the rich river of her body."
and carried on like it was barely worth the mention.
I, of course, read the sentences four or five times, in shock. And then I shrugged. Because the world needs more Mary Olivers. I'm saying we need intense people who are just knocked out by the world and our place in it and willing to share their unabashed awe. (And thankfully cat milk isn't necessary)

Upstream was published by Penguin Press in 2016 and I was able to read it thanks to my local library system.

For more reviews, visit
Profile Image for Wyatt.
114 reviews
December 31, 2020
First let me start off by saying—Mary Oliver may be my favorite poet. She’s also highly skilled at teaching poetry.

That may be the problem here. She’s writing essays as if they are the same thing as a poem.

And I came here essays not poems. I expected meaning beyond an occasional inspired thought and beautiful prose. I read them as I would an essay and not a poem, expecting her to engage in some kind of thoughtful, organized communication about various meanings or arguments on her subject. Instead I was given a rambling collection of thoughts without any real sense of purpose or direction. I was given her free association writing on very broad topics.

Is her language beautiful? Yes. Are there some inspired thoughts here? Undoubtedly.

And because of the commonalities that beautiful language and inspired thoughts have with poetry, (and because she’s Mary Oliver) people fawn over them as if they mean something. And yet they don’t.

With poetry it’s okay to not understand the meaning of the poem or its language. It’s okay to play with the sound and rhythm and images and symbolism be the goal of the art. Essays, however, are about something—an idea, an argument, an analysis and should contain more than a vague notion or hint about the overarching subject.

What Mary wrote here was a collection of rambling thoughts in beautiful prose and slapped the word essays on it as if that’s reason enough for people to read. Well, it might have been enough to say, “This my free association about turtles today!” and then maybe I wouldn’t have been so disappointed.

Apparently the reason some people truly enjoyed these essays is because they read the works in the same manner as her poetry instead of as a rambling collection of thoughts with no point or organizational structure to them.

She should have just called them poems—then it wouldn’t matter if the language meant anything or not. Then it wouldn’t matter if they were only her vaguely defined, freely associated thoughts. But you know, an occasional inspired thought and beautiful language isn’t enough to make meaning out of an essay, therefore 1 star.
Profile Image for Caroline Gerardo.
Author 12 books112 followers
September 7, 2016
ARC copy signed made me cry when I open the cover. Read while sitting outside with Cleveland National Park at my home. Tears, nods, the taste of gooseberries found hiking all in this book. We get better with wisdom of time. A book for writers, naturalists and those with a beating soul
Profile Image for Joellen.
102 reviews20 followers
March 16, 2021
Mary Oliver is such a gentle companion.

If words are brushstrokes, she lays them down delicately but with a certitude that is such a tender invigoration.

This book has inspired me to get back into a daily writing practice. And I think that really says something.
Profile Image for cameron.
146 reviews744 followers
June 17, 2021
holy wow she doesn’t miss. this had me tearing up quiet a few times for many different reasons. i love her so dearly
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