Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

Mary Oliver, my absolute favorite poet, died this week at the age of eighty-three, and there is an ache in my heart. Accompanying the sadness is the gratitude I feel for how thoroughly she has enriched my life. Her poems make the deep accessible, describing the most profound and sacred mysteries of life with words that always stir my heart and soul. 

Writer Ruth Franklin perfectly captures the essence of this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. "The way she writes these poems that feel like prayers, she channels the voice of somebody who it seems might possibly have access to God. I think her work does give a sense of someone who is in tune with the deepest mysteries of the universe."

If you are not familiar with Mary Oliver's poetry, do yourself a favor and spend some time getting to know her work. To help you get started, I am sharing with you of my favorite of her poems, "Sometimes." You can find more of her poems in books such as American Primitive for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984 and in New and Selected Poems for which she won The National Book Award for poetry in 1992.  

Thank you, Mary, for connecting us with the Sacred both within and around us.

"Sometimes" by Mary Oliver


Something came up

out of the dark.

It wasn't anything I had ever seen before.

It wasn't an animal

   or a flower,

unless it was both.

Something came up out of the water,

   a head the size of a cat

but muddy and without ears.

I don't know what God is.

I don't know what death is.

But I believe they have between them

   some fervent and necessary arrangement.



melancholy leaves me breathless.


Later I was in a field of full of sunflowers.

I was feeling the heat of midsummer. 

I was thinking of the sweet, electric

   drowse of creation,

when it began to break.

In the west, clouds gathered.


In an hour the sky was filled with them.

In an hour the sky was filled

   with the sweetness of rain and the blast of lightning.

Followed by the deep bells of thunder.

Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!

Both of them mad to create something!

The lightning brighter than any flower.

The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.


Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.


Two or three times in my life I discovered love.

Each time it seemed to solve everything.

Each time it solved a great many things

   but not everything.

Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and

thoroughly, solved everything.


God, rest in my heart

and fortify me,

take away my hunger for answers,

let the hours play upon my body

like the hands of my beloved.

Let the cathead appear again-

the smallest of your mysteries,

some wild cousin of my own blood probably-

some cousin of my own wild blood probably,

in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.


Death waits for me, I know it, around

   one corner or another.

This doesn't amuse me.

Neither does it frighten me.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.

It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.

I walked slowly, and listened

to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.

"Sometimes" is from Red Bird by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2008.

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