Poetry Friday: “Instructions For A Life”

Today I’m joining millions of people in mourning the passing of poet Mary Oliver. Oliver’s poems, essays, and interviews comprise a master class not only in being a poet, but in being a better human. She taught us to live with our eyes, ears, and hearts always open to the multitudes of wonders and possibilities present in the world.  It would be impossible for me to choose a favorite poem or even passage. So instead, I’ve taken the seven magically simple words that make up “Instructions For A Life” and created a Golden Shovel:

“Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Mary Oliver


Someone’s not-so-hidden entrance in this ancient rock wall in the woods behind my house.

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for so generously sharing your poetry, wisdom and love of our magnificent world. You will be missed. Please be sure to visit Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

16 thoughts on “Poetry Friday: “Instructions For A Life”

  1. Oh Catherine, I really really love this. What a wonderful Golden Shovel. The idea of “an entire world within it.” The rock wall that winds through the whole of New England. Holding onto so many stories and so many lives. It is such a testament that so many are so moved by Mary Oliver. We should have some kind of Mary Oliver retreat to study her more with our poetry friends. That is a dream and a wish. You have captured what she meant to so many others. Bravo.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is that ‘attention’ that touches me every time. I am always hoping that more people would stop to heed those words. Your idea to take Mary’s words and make them important to your life is wonderful, Catherine. What a special poem. I have always loved the rock walls built like the one you share. How great that you have one for your own “attention”!

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  3. I can’t seem to stop the tears this morning as I make my way through the tributes. I think it’s probably my turn to try to figure out a way to honor all her words have given to me…

    You caught the spirit of her quote perfectly, studying your rock wall and seeing so much. (love the “not-so-hidden” chipmunk door!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a glorious tribute poem. I think that you have done a marvelous job of noticing and attending to create such detailed instructions for living in your poem. I think I would sit at your ancient rock wall for hours, just living.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You captured her feeling well in your golden shovel Catherine! “content to simply be:” “be battered by rain and snow” –I wrote a haiku today about being in the wind and snow–yes let’s keep noticing nature.


  6. Catherine, you captured the wonder that Mary Oliver shared with the world in your lovely golden shovel. I admire it and would like to share it with a group of reading specialists that I will be presenting PD to in early February. I would also like to showcase it in my gallery. Thanks for your attention to detail and wonder, Catherine.


  7. I echo Heidi’s wows. This is such a fitting remembrance of Mary Oliver’s spirit and impact. It’s a strong poem and in her style–even if golden shovel was not a form she used often (ever?). I love Margaret’s description of how this Poetry Friday has been a virtual wake for this incredible poet and person. Thank you for your words. They are beautiful.


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