Instructions for living a life by Mary Oliver

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

I’m not sure if this is considered a poem or simply a quote but it has always been one of my favourites. Today is the first anniversary of Mary Oliver’s death. She left us with so many exquisite poems and this one seems, to me, to capture so well the essence of how she lived and what she wrote.

So here is a small tribute to her based on this poem.

Pay Attention. How else will you know what is going on around you?

You must be present to life each day as it is, notice it, observe, especially

the smallest details – this grasshopper, the ocean’s shine, the green

fists of the peonies, the daily presentations. Let us not become blasé about

this remarkable life.

Be astonished. We can become unimpressed with what we have seen

and experienced many times, becoming indifferent to both the beauties

and the horrors the world shows us over and over. It is only right, she tells

us, to be amazed and impressed by everything, especially (again) the small

details. To be filled with awe, lost for words.

Tell about it. For a poet like herself, Oliver knew how to tell us what she

saw, how to put words to what might seem indescribable. Yet I think she

meant not only that we should write poetry but that we should speak of all

that is remarkable about this world, to share the wonders we see and hear

with others as she so generously did with us.

Mary Oliver said all that and so much more in 7 words.

Are you not astonished?

10 thoughts on “Instructions for living a life by Mary Oliver

  1. Jan,
    Thank you for these reminders – pay attention, be astonished, tell about it – a powerful mantra and tribute to Mary Oliver. You were the one who introduced me to her work and I am forever grateful.
    Lisa ❤️


  2. Dear Jan – those seven words do astonish me, as a way of being in the world. They come from a longer poem called “Sometimes.” Thanks for your poetic reminder. I wonder if paying attention is what brings out the fully human in us? Love – Mary Lou


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