I don’t know when I first read one of Mary Oliver’s poems…a few years into writing Improvised Life perhaps. Since that time, I’ve found myself turning again and again to her books looking for a poem that would resonate in a post I was writing, that would be just the thing to take it farther, into some other dimension or view.  I always found it.

While her poetry illuminated common things — snow, trees, owls, summer, morning, deer, flowers —  they were woven through with potent little instructions for living.

Here are three of her most powerful…

to live in this world

you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go



Upon hearing the news of Mary Oliver’s passing, I found myself grateful that she was here working her gift for so long, and for the hundreds of poems and very unique view she left behind…

Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry…



For the many Improvised Life posts that feature Mary Oliver’s poems,  please click here.  Devotions is a fine, five-decade spanning anthology of Oliver’s favorite poems from her twenty-six books. Open it anywhere…



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2 replies on “Mary Oliver’s Instructions for Living

  1. A quiet visionary leaves us.

    A time to weep,
    A time to praise,
    A time to sing.

    A time to give thanks
    that she passed our way.

  2. Dear Susan, I think it may have been YOU who introduced me to Mary Oliver, inadvertently, when you included one of her poems in a post you guest-wrote. Boy do I owe you!

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