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Thirst: Poems Paperback – September 1, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Consoling, and intense interaction with the natural world abounds in the 43 poems of Pulitzer Prize–winner Oliver's new collection, as her many readers might expect. The trees whisper, a ribbon snake imparts lessons and the poet is likened to a swimming otter. What has changed, though, is that Oliver's new work reflects her faith in God and her grief over the death of her longtime partner. Those who do not share her brand of faith may or may not find its terms difficult to accept–"Everything is His./ The door. The door jamb"–but the loss of a loved one is more universal: of grief, she writes, "I went closer, / and I did not die." Still, many of these poems mention or court cataclysmic loss while refusing to dwell in it. At times, Oliver's will-to-gratitude can feel like preaching or admonishment; Oliver describes a luna moth with "a pale green wing whose rim is like a musical notation," before adding, "Have you noticed?" The role of danger or evil in this Eden is mostly unacknowledged: "... the things of this world / ... are kind, and maybe// also troubled." (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Oliver, one of the country's most popular and highly awarded poets, presents her credo at the outset of her newest collection: "My work is loving the world." The poems that follow are what readers expect from Oliver, beautifully tempered lyrics celebrating the splendor of the living world. Oliver has been what Diane Ackerman calls an "earth ecstatic," a contemplative writer who finds joy and wisdom in sustained attentiveness to nature. Spirituality has always been an element in Oliver's work, but as she writes of her grief after losing her longtime companion, her poems gradually become overtly Christian. The result is a candid revelation of a profound sea change navigated in pain and humility and culminating in a very moving declaration of faith. Oliver's signature tropes are as vital as ever--her beloved birds, dogs, snakes, and ocean are all summoned to capture the breathtaking glory of life. But now Oliver pours her wonder and gratitude into directed prayers: "Oh Lord of melons, of mercy, though I am / not ready, nor worthy, I am climbing toward you." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 88 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807068977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807068977
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A private person by nature, Mary Oliver has given very few interviews over the years. Instead, she prefers to let her work speak for itself. And speak it has, for the past five decades, to countless readers. The New York Times recently acknowledged Mary Oliver as "far and away, this country's best-selling poet." Born in a small town in Ohio, Oliver published her first book of poetry in 1963 at the age of 28; No Voyage and Other Poems, originally printed in the UK by Dent Press, was reissued in the United States in 1965 by Houghton Mifflin. Oliver has since published many works of poetry and prose. As a young woman, Oliver studied at Ohio State University and Vassar College, but took no degree. She lived for several years at the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upper New York state, companion to the poet's sister Norma Millay. It was there, in the late '50s, that she met photographer Molly Malone Cook. For more than forty years, Cook and Oliver made their home together, largely in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they lived until Cook's death in 2005. Over the course of her long and illustrious career, Oliver has received numerous awards. Her fourth book, American Primitive, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984. She has also received the Shelley Memorial Award; a Guggenheim Fellowship; an American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Achievement Award; the Christopher Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for House of Light; the National Book Award for New and Selected Poems; a Lannan Foundation Literary Award; and the New England Booksellers Association Award for Literary Excellence. Oliver's essays have appeared in Best American Essays 1996, 1998, 2001; the Anchor Essay Annual 1998, as well as Orion, Onearth and other periodicals. Oliver was editor of Best American Essays 2009. Oliver's books on the craft of poetry, A Poetry Handbook and Rules for the Dance, are used widely in writing programs. She is an acclaimed reader and has read in practically every state as well as other countries. She has led workshops at various colleges and universities, and held residencies at Case Western Reserve University, Bucknell University, University of Cincinnati, and Sweet Briar College. From 1995, for five years, she held the Catharine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching at Bennington College. She has been awarded Honorary Doctorates from The Art Institute of Boston (1998), Dartmouth College (2007) and Tufts University (2008). Oliver currently lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the inspiration for much of her work.

Photo Credit: Rachel Giese Brown, 2009.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Julie Jordan Scott on January 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I thought to myself, "It must be about time for

Mary Oliver to have released another poetry

collection." and was so pleased to find

_Thirst_ on the shelf.

The moment I opened it I realized this was

going to be even more compelling than

nearly any other poetry I have ever read.

I sat in Barnes and Noble, crying openly,

laughing, smiling and revisiting poems

and phrases and just being amazed at the

transcendence I felt from Ms. Oliver's words.

This is a poetry book I will give to my

"non poetry" friends as well as my poetry


It is about the sacredness of life itself, it

is about love - never ending. It is about

coming to understand wholeness.

And so much more. It is difficult to express

with words how impactful this book is upon

my soul. As one reviewer said below, five stars

are not enough.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Zinta Aistars on January 7, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Live long enough, live deep enough, and you will find, as Mary Oliver does in these 43 poems collected in "Thirst," that all grief edges joy, all joy is edged by grief. It is only in a deep and courageous immersion into life, and perhaps also that place beyond life, that one can fully experience this wonder, a kind of yin and yang, the light beside the shadow, phenomenon that is living with thirst, quenched or unquenched.

There is nothing pretentious about Oliver's poetry. She is simplicity and purity itself. Thirst is how she approaches living, and now dying - in her expression of grief for the loss of her longtime life partner. This does not change how she approaches living, only intensifies it. "My work is loving the world," she writes in her opening poem, "Messenger." She observes the world, then observes herself in it, part and parcel. "Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums./Here the clam deep in the speckled sand./Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?/Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me/keep my mind on what matters,/which is my work,/which is mostly standing still and learning to be/astonished."

Much of this collection is Oliver's conversation with God having a conversation with her. Their dialogue is filtered by nature, where everyplace is a place of worship and every living thing ministering to her and she reciprocating. Her dogs speak of unconditional love and simple acceptance, an exchanged gaze with a snake is looking into the eyes of divinity (and not the darker side). Praying can be done through the weeds in a vacant lot. The words do not have to be elaborate, Oliver writes, "but a doorway/into thanks, and a silence in which/another voice may speak.
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96 of 104 people found the following review helpful By S. West on October 31, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the very first line of the very first poem of Mary Oliver's new collection of poetry, entitled Thirst, she says "My work is loving the world" (Messenger). In the very last poem of this slim volume, she says "Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart" (Thirst). These poems bookend a new affirmation of faith for Oliver: For the first time in her life, at the age of 71, she is writing from an apparent Christian framework, loving the world of marshes, ponds, beaches, bears and dogs and the Creator of all these things she has so long loved.

These are poems that celebrate the world of Creation, that praise the Creator, that walk through grief (Oliver lost her long time partner and agent, Molly Malone Cook, in 1995) into resolute hope, that point beyond nature and grief to the Giver of all. Her love of nature might be seen in the way she addresses it as addressing a good friend, as in "When I Am Among the Trees," where she says

Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, "Stay awhile."

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,

"and you too have come

into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine."

There are poems about ribbon snakes, roses, a great moth, otters, Percy (her dog), and that great conversation ("And still I believe you will/ come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,/ the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea goose, know/ that really I am speaking to you" (Making the House Ready for the Lord).

And then there is grief.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kramer on October 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
Other reviewers have spoken well of Mary Oliver's grief at the death of her partner and her search for God. I want to mention a poem that spoke to me and said "If only.". If only our leaders would read this poem, be touched by it to move in other directions.

Mozart,for Example

All the quick notes
Mozart didn't have time to use
before he entered the cloud-boat

are falling now from the beaks
of the finches
that have gathered from the joyous summer

into the hard winter
and, like Mozart, they speak of nothing
but light and delight,

though it is true, the heavy blades of the world
are still pounding underneath.
And this is what you can do too, maybe,

if you live simply and with a lyrical heart
in the cumbered neighborhoods or even,
as Mozart sometimes managed to, in a palace,

offering tune after tune after tune,
making some hard-hearted prince
prudent and kind, just by being happy.
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