Poetry Sunday: The Swan by Mary Oliver

On the Texas coast, there are currently thousands, maybe millions, of Snow Geese spending the winter. Last week I saw a video of them that a birder had shot at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. They lifted into the air, a great multitude, and the sky turned white with their wings. Such a thrilling sight!

I thought of this poem by Mary Oliver. It's a different bird of which she writes but the description of an "armful of white blossoms" and "a snowbank, a bank of lilies" is apt. We only have to multiply that one by several thousand. The "shrill dark music" of their voices is unforgettable. And as we watch, we may feel in our hearts how this beauty pertains to everything, as the poet says.

The Swan

by Mary Oliver

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?


  1. I love this poem. It has a lot to say.

    Snow Geese are indeed interesting birds.

    1. Especially in great numbers as they appear in winter.

  2. What a wonderful, wonderful poet she is. I was about to say "was" but that would be incorrect and merely reflect her mortal passing. If there is such a thing as immortality she has achieved it with her words, which come as close to perfection as it is possible to attain. And your comparison with the Snow Geese is very appropriate. I have seen such spectacles and they stir the soul. Thanks for starting off my Sunday on the right note, Dorothy.

    1. Her words are indeed immortal and continue to inspire and comfort us.

  3. Snow geese aren't something I find here, knowingly - we do have lots and lots of Canada Geese, though. I would love to see a flock of white birds fly.

    1. I think you don't see Snow Geese because they're all here! Seriously, they do migrate to our area in the fall and we get to enjoy them all winter before they head back north again. The Canada Geese are a lot more sedentary.

  4. I often contemplate what beauty is for. Mary Oliver's poem is a good answer.

    1. I find that her poems are often the answer to whatever question perplexes me at the moment.


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