Mary Oliver, the beloved and prolific poet whose work reflected her reverence of nature, died Thursday at her home in Florida. She was 83, and the cause of death was lymphoma, according to her literary executor, Bill Reichblum. Oliver made her literary debut in 1963, at age 28, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 for her collection American Primitive, then the National Book Award for poetry in 1992 for New and Selected Poems.
Born and raised in the Cleveland suburb of Maple Heights, Oliver escaped what she called an abusive and "dysfunctional" home life by exploring the nearby woods and writing poetry. She met her partner, Molly Malone Cook, at the New York home of the late poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose papers she helped organize after high school. Cook died in 2005.
Oliver's poems mostly centered on animal life and the natural world. "One of her favorite adjectives was 'perfect,' and rarely did she apply it to people," The Associated Press notes. In her 2004 essay collection Long Life, Oliver wrote that outwardly "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.' But, at the center: I am shaking; I am flashing like tinsel."
Oliver's poem "When Death Comes," from New and Selected Poems, ends with some thoughts about her own death:
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 find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
Oliver's final anthology of poems, Devotions, was published in 2017.