Oliver wrote over thirty books of poetry beginning in 1963, with No Voyage and Other Poems. She also wrote prose poems and essays, including the book Our World (2007), in which she provided essays to accompany Cook’s photographs. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for American Primitive and a Lannan Literary Award in 1998 for lifetime achievement, and was a writer-in-residence at numerous colleges. She believed that poetry should be clear (“mustn’t be fancy”) and that each poem should be pared to its essentials. Her muses were nature, animals, plants, and her physical surroundings in general, especially Provincetown, which she deeply loved. “I could not be a poet without the natural world,” she wrote in Upstream: Selected Essays (2016). Her last book was Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (2017), containing over 200 poems.
In When Death Comes, which appeared in the National Book Award-winning New and Selected Poems (1992) she wrote:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real. …
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”