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Friday, January 21, 2011


(January by Grant Wood, 1891-1942, American painter)

Mary Oliver is part of the Romantic set, sitting around the table with poets like Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley. Like them, she finds the source of happiness in Nature, and she is inclined to make use of the pathetic fallacy, attaching human qualities and emotions to flora and fauna and inanimate objects.

Unlike them, however, she does not write in the sonnet form, preferring instead a series of stanzas with three or four short lines each. Also unlike them, she sometimes hints at a mysterious something. In this poem, for example, just what is this bird? And exactly how large is it?


In winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
but he’s restless —
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake.
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds —

which he has summoned
from the north —
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent —

thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent —
that has turned itself
into snow.

~ Mary Oliver, born 1935, American poet

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