Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver dies at 83

/ AP

Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose rapturous odes to nature and animal life brought her critical acclaim and popular affection, died Thursday. She was 83.

Oliver died at her home in Hobe Sound, Florida, her literary executor, Bill Reichblum, said. The cause of death was lymphoma.

Fans on Thursday remembered her online, sharing some of their favorite works and lines of her poetry. Others thanked her.

"Thank you, Mary Oliver, for giving so many of us words to live by," Hillary Clinton tweeted.

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

Madonna called her one of her favorite poets.

"I Raise A Glass and Shed a tear to the passing of one of my favorite poets………..Mary Oliver," Madonna tweeted. "Her words were a bridge from Nature to the Spiritual World…………….♥️ God Bless You Mary!"

Oliver — author of more than 15 poetry and essay collections — wrote brief, direct pieces that sang of her worship of the outdoors and disdain for greed, despoilment and other human crimes. One of her favorite adjectives was "perfect," and rarely did she apply it to people. Her muses were owls and butterflies, frogs and geese, the changes of the seasons, the sun and the stars.

"In my outward appearance and life habits I hardly change — there's never been a day that my friends haven't been able to say, and at a distance, 'There's Oliver, still standing around in the weeds. There she is, still scribbling in her notebook,'" Oliver wrote in "Long Life," a book of essays published in 2004.

"But, at the center: I am shaking; I am flashing like tinsel."

In this Nov. 18, 1992 file photo, Mary Oliver appears at the National Book Awards in New York where she received the poetry award for her book "New and Selected Poems." MARK LENNIHAN/AP

Like her hero Walt Whitman, whom she would call the brother she never had, Oliver didn't only observe mushrooms growing in a rainstorm or an owl calling from a black branch; she longed to know and become one with what she saw. She might be awed by the singing of goldfinches or, as in the poem "White Flowers," overcome by a long nap in a field.

Her poetry books included "White Pine," ''West Wind" and the anthology "Devotions." She won the Pulitzer in 1984 for "American Primitive" and the National Book Award in 1992 for "New and Selected Poems." In 1998, she received the Lannan Literary Award for lifetime achievement. Her fans ranged from fellow poets Stanley Kunitz and Rita Dove to Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush.

"Although few poets have fewer human beings in their poems than Mary Oliver, it is ironic that few poets also go so far to help us forward," Stephen Dobyns wrote of her in The New York Times.

Oliver was a native of Maple Heights in suburban Cleveland, and endured what she called a "dysfunctional" family in part by writing poems and building huts of sticks and grass in the nearby woods. Edna St. Vincent Millay was an early influence and, while in high school, Oliver wrote to the late poet's sister, Norma, asking if she could visit Millay's house in Austerlitz, New York. Norma Millay agreed and Oliver ended up spending several years there, organizing Edna St. Vincent Millay's papers.

While in Austerlitz, she also met the photographer Molly Malone Cook. The two were partners until Cook's death, in 2005. Much of Oliver's work was dedicated to Cook.

Oliver studied at Ohio State University and Vassar College, but never graduated and later scorned much of her education as "a pre-established collection of certainties." She did teach at Case Western University and Bennington College among other schools, although much of her work drew upon her childhood and the landscape around Provincetown.

"I am not very hopeful about the Earth remaining as it was when I was a child. It's already greatly changed. But I think when we lose the connection with the natural world, we tend to forget that we're animals, that we need the Earth," Oliver told Maria Shriver during a 2011 interview for Oprah Winfrey's "O'' magazine.

"If I have any lasting worth, it will be because I have tried to make people remember what the Earth is meant to look like."

She wrote often of mortality, but with a spirit of gratitude and completion. In "Circles," she pronounced herself "content" not to live forever, having been "filled" by what she saw and believed. In "When Death Comes," she hoped that at the end of life she could look back and see herself as a "bride married to amazement."

First published on January 17, 2019

© 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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